5 Quick Tips for Your Independent Study Audit

Many details go into audits for California Independent Study programs, and it’s important to ensure you’re aligned with your individual auditor based on the requirements of your specific program. However, breaking the audit process down into core components can help ensure that you’re audit-ready when the time comesdecreasing any overwhelm and last-minute scrambling.

While not an exhaustive list, the key big-picture goals of the audit process, per California’s 2023-2024 Audit Guide, are to:

  • Reconcile the LEA’s independent study attendance records to ADA generated through full-time independent study reported to the CDE.
  • Verify that the LEA has adopted board policies and has implemented those policies.
  • Select a sample that is representative of the LEA and sufficient in size to allow the auditor to draw a reasonable conclusion with respect to the LEA’s compliance with independent study requirements.
  • Verify that the monthly site summaries used for summarizing attendance provide accurate information.

At School Pathways, we’ve spent 20+ years working with California schools, with a strong focus on Independent Study and alternative learning environments. We’ve compiled five quick tips for a stress-free audit.

1. Have your Board Policy on-hand and align subsequent documentation and practices to a tee.

Your auditor will typically cross-reference the details listed in your board policy with any other documentation to make sure your school is fully aligned with the approved procedures. Thus it’s important that you’re both familiar with the Board Policy yourself and have a copy on-hand for easy reference.

While it may seem simple, this is an area where schools can get caught because there isn’t one norm on how a program should operate. The California School Boards Association has more information on these procedures as a whole, but as far as Independent Study is concerned, key details to look out for are:

  • What information must be listed on a Master Agreement
  • How often a student must sign a Master Agreement
  • The maximum length of time that a student has between the time the assignment is given and the time that it is due 
  • How many assignments a student can miss
  • How many work samples must be collected per class, per LP
  • Tiered Reengagement Strategies

2. Keep your Master Agreements clear and concise.

Master Agreements (MAs) should be concise documents, and adding more information than is needed can actually lose ADA rather than retain it. So keep your Master Agreements clear and concise–without any fluff.

If you have other items you would like your students/families to agree upon, consider developing a separate agreement to be kept in a non-auditable file. For example, our Personalized Learning System (PLS) software has an Acknowledgment of Responsibilities document that can be used for such a purpose.

What’s more, whatever you can do to streamline your auditor’s experience going through the MAs will make for a quick and painless experience for all. The best way to do that is through clear labels, an outline format, and uniformity across all Master Agreements.

At School Pathways, for example, we recommend that our schools use clear headers, introduction lines, and bold type to highlight the items that correlate to the Board Policy areas the auditor checks for. That way, it’s easy for the auditor to cross-reference both documents quickly. Keeping the MA format uniform also means that once the auditor has checked one Master Agreement, it’s just a quick look to see that the other MAs also match and align. 


3. Have regular deadlines and check-ins for student records to ensure compliance (rather than waiting until it might be too late).

Set a timeframe expectation for when teachers should finish assessing student work and creating portfolios, such as five days after the end of a learning period. Administrators, too, should perform a monthly check to confirm that they have a given month’s attendance, student work samples, necessary signatures, and the like to be able to catch any gaps closer to when they occurred.

This kind of regular check-in is the best way to keep clean data and ensure you have all documentation accounted for and organized. If you save your compliance check until too close to your audit, you may not catch all of your errors, you may not be able to locate the relevant documentation at all, or you may be left in the lurch if, say, a teacher you need a signature from is no longer at the school.

Look at those documents and have a compliance check at regular intervals throughout the school year so that you have confidence in your files when it comes time to audit.

4. Digitize your student files for easy recall and shareability.

Speaking of organization, digitizing your documentation can bring the most significant impact on your audit preparation. Digital records are much easier to search through compared to paper documentation that has to be looked through manually. Digital documents can also be readily accessible to any staff members (with internet access) through the click of a button. In contrast, a physical file/filing cabinet can only sit in one location.

In School Pathways’ PLS, we also offer some built-in compliance checks to help catch potential errors–a type of automation that isn’t possible with paper. Moving to digital documentation doesn’t even have to mean that you don’t use paper at all. You may still print and store select records for your keeping or to hand off to your auditor, but relying on paper alone will require a much greater time commitment across the board.

5. Dive into the details with your specific auditor.

We will finish this list the same way we started it because the most essential piece to prepare for your audit is to be in conversation with your actual auditor. Not every detail is written into California’s Education Code, which means that some elements are left up to the auditor’s interpretation. 

New changes also come every year, and you don’t want an update to fall under the radar. For example, things like whether digital signatures are accepted or if wet signatures are required on documents have changed over the years and may vary. So proactively reach out to your auditor and align on expectations for the audit. If you do that, you’ll be off to a great start.

Thank you for reading our quick tips on preparing for your Independent Study audit. If you want to learn more about School Pathways’ solution for Independent Study documentation and compliance, we would love to chat!

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