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Is Independent Study Right for My Student?

Information on what is required of the student to be successful and some of the ways in which schools offering independent study may vary.

Generally, success in independent study requires motivation and a strong commitment on the part of the student and, especially for a young student, his or her parents/guardians/caregivers. It also requires sufficient academic preparation to enable the student to work independently. Some schools require the student’s academic performance to be at or close to grade level, while other schools work with students who have fallen behind by providing additional individualized support necessary for success.

  • State law requires students with special needs who wish to participate in independent study to have an individualized education program (IEP) that provides for independent study. For more information regarding IEPs, contact the Special Education Parents Help Line at 1-800-926-0648.

It is important to learn about the characteristics of the independent study options available to your student to consider whether they will meet your student’s needs and interests. Here are some ways to locate information about an independent study school:

  • Use the information provided in How to Find Independent Study to locate independent study in your area.
  • Access school information from the California School Directory. Many schools have a website. If the school’s website is not listed, you may find it on the district’s Web site.
  • Review the School Accountability Report Card for additional information about individual schools.
  • Talk with school officials and teachers and visit the school with your student to help you determine if the school and independent study offered meet your needs.

As with other types of education, independent study may vary greatly from school to school. In deciding whether the independent study offered in a particular school or program would be appropriate for your student, it will be important to consider the characteristics of that school and whether the characteristics meet your student’s needs. Below are some of the ways in which schools offering independent study may vary:

  • Size: Schools offering independent study may vary in size from a few dozen students to 1,000 or more. Very small schools may provide a more personalized setting while larger schools may offer additional options such as labs and classes in various subjects.
  • Meetings: In some schools, independent study students (and parents/guardians/caregivers of elementary students) meet with their teacher one-on-one (typically weekly) to turn in completed work, ask questions, and receive new assignments. In other schools, students meet with their teachers more frequently—in small groups, labs, or classes—in addition to working on assignments independently.
  • Online Schools: In some schools, classes are offered online and student-teacher and student-to-student interactions occur over the internet using message boards and email. In some cases, the classes are conducted in real time.
  • Structure and Organization: Schools vary as to structure (i.e., one teacher for all subjects or, especially at the secondary level, different subject matter specialist teachers for different subjects) and organization. In some schools and programs, students take fewer subjects on a more intense basis, covering a year-long course in one semester or less. In other schools, students take a full range of courses at any given time.
  • Students Served: Independent study can serve students with a range of academic abilities. Some schools are designed as “college prep” and either offer all the courses to meet University of California entrance requirements or arrange for students to have access to some required classes at a community college, a comprehensive high school, or online. Other schools are designed to assist students who have not been successful in traditional schools. These schools may offer diagnostic assessments and interventions to help students catch up where they have fallen behind academically and may provide counseling and extra support to enable these students to be successful.
  • Academic Achievement: Schools also vary regarding academic achievement. The Academic Performance Index and state ranking information for individual schools are available from DataQuest.
  • Program or Stand-Alone School: Independent study may be offered as a program option within a traditional school. It is also offered in alternative schools of choice or charter schools that are primarily or entirely independent study.

Independent study can be a great option for some students; however, it may not be the right option for every student who is not thriving at a traditional school. Some students might be better served in an educational option that is classroom-based and offers a smaller learning environment and more individualization. Many charter schools, alternative schools of choice, or magnet schools meet this description; these schools may also offer a particular academic focus or approach that would engage an individual student’s interests and best meet the student’s learning style.

Questions:   Independent Study Staff |
Last Reviewed: Thursday, October 08, 2020
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