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Quick Guide to Independent Study

An overview of independent study describing the types of programs, key legal requirements, written or master agreements, local board policy, funding, and attendance.

The following provides a quick overview of independent study in California.

Variety of Formats

Districts or county offices of education (COEs) are not required to offer independent study. Those that do may offer it through a variety of formats:

  • As a program or class within a comprehensive school
  • Through an alternative school or program of choice. California Education Code (EC) Section 58500 et seq.
  • Through Charter Schools
  • In a home-based format
  • Short term (not less than five days). EC 46300(e)(1)
  • Through online courses
  • As an accommodation for student travel
  • As special and/or advanced courses
  • A credit recovery method

Key Legal Requirements for Independent Study

Legal requirements for independent study are found in the EC and the California Code of Regulations, Title 5 (5 CCR). See Legal Requirements for Independent Study.

Local Board Policy

EC 51747 and 5 CCR 11701
Local boards that agree to offer students the option of independent study as an instructional delivery alternative must make it voluntary. Then they must establish policies as specified in EC 51747(a) and adopted pursuant to 5 CCR 11701, including:

  • Maximum length of time between assignment and due date
  • Number of missed assignments that require an evaluation of whether the student should remain in independent study.
  • Current written (master) agreement containing all required elements (see below) on file for each student

NOTE: Administrative Rules and Regulations may be adopted to implement independent study in accordance with California law. Other policies and procedures may also be listed in the Student Handbook.

A Written (Master) Agreement for Each Independent Study Student

The following elements must be in each written agreement according to California law:

  1. General student data including the name, address, grade level, school of enrollment, and program placement. EC 51748, 51747.3(b), and 46300.1
  2. The beginning and end dates of the agreement EC 51747(c)(5)
  3. The duration of agreement (not more than one semester or half year) EC 51747(c)(5)
  4. List of subjects/courses in which the student is enrolled and number of course credits to be earned or other statement of credit for short-term agreements EC 51747(c)(6); 5 CCR 11703(b)(2)
  5. The learning objectives for the course(s) and assignments attempted under the agreement EC 51747(c)(2) and 51745(a)(3); 5 CCR 11700(e)(f) and 11702(b)
  6. The methods of study, including the student activities selected by the supervising teacher that the student will complete in order to meet the course objectives EC 51747(c)(2); 5 CCR 11704(c)
  7. The methods of evaluation that will be used to determine if the student met the learning objective(s) EC 51747(c)(2)
  8. The specific resources, including instructional materials and personnel, which will be made available to the student EC 51746 and 51747(c)(3); 5 CCR 11700(i) and 11701.5
  9. The maximum length of time between the date of the assignment and when it is due, by grade level and type of program (pursuant to Board Policy) EC 51747(a)
  10. The number of missed assignments that will lead to an evaluation to determine if independent study is appropriate for the student EC 51747(b) and 51747(c)(4)
  11. Statement that independent study is a voluntary option EC 51747(c)(7); 5 CCR 11700(d)(2)(A)
  12. Statement that instruction may be provided for an EC 48915 (expulsion) or 48917 (suspended expulsion) student through independent study only if the student has the continuous choice of classroom instruction EC 51747(c)(7); 5 CCR 11700(d)(2)(B)
  13. Reporting/returning assignments to teacher(s) EC 51747(c)(1)
    • Time(s) for meetings/reporting
    • Frequency of meetings (can be a combination of online, face-to-face, or lab)
    • Location (may be a combination of labs, classrooms, face-to-face, and/or online)
  14. Dated signatures for student, parent/guardian/caregiver, teacher, and other assisting person(s). EC 51747(c)(4)

Equal Educational Opportunity

EC 51745(a)(3)
By law, the independent study option is to be substantially equivalent in quality and quantity to classroom instruction, and shall not be provided as an alternative curriculum.


EC 58507
Independent study may be used to deliver the curriculum of an alternative school or program of choice. Any alternative school or program of choice shall be maintained and funded by the school district at the same level as other educational programs for children of the same age level operated by the district.

Ratio of Average Daily Attendance to Supervising Teacher

EC 51745.6(a)
The ratio of average daily attendance for independent study pupils to school district full-time equivalent certificated employees responsible for independent study may not exceed the equivalent ratio of pupils to full-time certificated employees for all other educational programs operated by the school district. See Instructions for Ratio Calculations.

Under Charter School Regulations, charter schools may use one of two methods for computing average daily attendance ratios:

  1. They may follow the instructions for school districts, using as the base the unified school district with the greatest average daily attendance in the county or counties in which the charter school operates. 5 CCR 11704
  2. They may use a fixed pupils-to-certificated employee ratio of not more than 25 to 1. EC 51745.6(e)

Standards Aligned

EC 51745(a)(3)
Independent study is not an alternative curriculum so all courses and materials are aligned to state content standards, and textbooks are those most recently adopted by the State Board of Education or, in the case of high school, by the LEA. Supplemental materials may be used to respond to individual student interests and learning styles. Materials that are sectarian in nature are not used pursuant to the California Constitution, Article IX, Section 8.

Teacher Quality

EC 51747.5, which recognizes EC 44865 and 44300
Independent study teachers shall be an employee of the school district, charter school, or COE who possesses a vaild certification document.

Schools Enable Students to Successfully Complete Their Independent Study

  1. Students are assessed for their potential to be successful in independent study. EC 51746(b); 5 CCR 11700(d)(1)(B)
  2. Students participating in independent study are to have the same access to existing services and resources and equality of rights and privileges as other students. 5 CCR 11700(i) and 11701.5
  3. Students should have contact with teachers as specified in Board Policy (may be a combination of one-on-one, in class or lab, by e-mail, phone, conference, and/or online) on a sufficiently frequent basis for the teachers to provide needed instruction, adequately judge student progress, and make appropriate modifications. The frequency of student-teacher meetings may be increased as needed.
Questions:   Independent Study Staff |
Last Reviewed: Thursday, October 8, 2020
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