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Is Independent Study Right for My Pupil?

Information on what is required of the pupil 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 pupil and, for some pupils, requires the support of parents/guardians/caregivers. It also requires sufficient academic preparation to enable the pupil to work independently. Except for the 2021–22 school year, many local educational agencies (LEAs) offering independent study require the pupil’s academic performance to be at or close to grade level, while others work with pupils who have fallen behind by providing additional individualized support necessary for success.

  • State law requires pupils with special needs to have an individualized education program (IEP) that documents the special education supports and services that will be provided during approved participation in independent study. The determination of the supports and services are decided by the IEP team. For more information or questions, please contact the Special Education Division at 916-445-4613 or specedinfoshare@cde.ca.gov.

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

  • 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 website.
  • Review the School Accountability Report Card for additional information about individual schools.
  • Talk with school officials and teachers about their independent study options and visit the school site offering the program with your pupil to help you determine if independent study will meet the needs of your pupil.

As with other types of education, independent study may vary greatly from district to district. In deciding whether the independent study offered in a particular school or program would be appropriate for your pupil, it will be important to consider the school climate and whether it is the best fit for your pupil. Below are some of the ways in which independent study may vary:

  • Size: Independent study may vary in size from a few dozen pupils to 1,000 or more. Smaller programs may provide a more personalized setting while larger schools may have more course options available.
  • Meetings: In some programs, independent study pupils (and parents/guardians/caregivers of elementary pupils) meet with their teacher one-on-one on a weekly basis to turn in completed work, ask questions, and receive new assignments. In other programs, pupils may meet with their teachers more frequently—in small groups, labs, or classes—in addition to working on assignments independently. Depending on grade level, state law requires that LEAs provide opportunities for synchronous instruction and live interaction as follows:
    Minimum Standards for Live Interaction and Synchronous Instruction
    Grade Level Live Interaction Opportunities Synchronous Instruction Opportunities
    Transitional Kindergarten–3 Not applicable Daily
    4–8 Daily Weekly
    9–12 Not applicable Weekly

  • Online Schools: In some programs, classes are offered online and pupil-teacher and pupil-to-pupil interactions occur over the internet using various platforms and email communication. In some cases, the classes are conducted in real time.
  • Structure and Organization: Programs 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. Depending on the individual needs and capacity, the pupil may take fewer subjects on a more intense basis, covering a year-long course in one semester or less, or may  take a full range of courses at any given time.
  • Pupils Served: Independent study can serve pupils with a range of academic abilities. Some programs are designed to challenge pupils with college preparatory courses and may either offer all the courses to meet University of California/California State University entrance requirements or arrange for pupils to have access to some required classes at a community college, a comprehensive high school, or a board-approved online platform. Other programs are designed to assist pupils who have not been successful in the regular classroom setting. These programs may offer diagnostic assessments and interventions to help pupils meet grade level requirements and may provide counseling and additional supports to enable pupils 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 setting, or may be offered in alternative schools of choice or through charter schools that are primarily or entirely independent study.

Independent study can be a great option for some pupils; however, it may not be the right option for every pupil who is not thriving in a regular classroom setting. Some pupils 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 pupil’s interests and best meet the pupil’s learning style.

Questions:   Independent Study | independentstudy@cde.ca.gov
Last Reviewed: Friday, September 24, 2021