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IEPs and 504 plans are two different plans for students aged 3-21  to receive support and accommodations in school, and both are protected by law. However, there are some differences between the two plans.

What is an IEP?

An Individualized Education Program (IEP)  lays out a program of special education instruction. It sets forth supports and related services that the student needs to make progress and thrive in school. It’s a detailed plan containing goals, measurable outcomes, details of modified instruction, and timelines for those measurable outcomes.

What is a 504 Plan?

A 504 Plan is a different method for students with disabilities to get the support they need. It’s a blueprint for how the school can provide support and remove barriers for a student with a disability. Students who may not qualify for an IEP may get the support and accommodations they need through a 504 Plan.  


Two Different Laws

IEP: Falls under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Has a narrower definition of Disability. 

504 Plan: Falls under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, has a broader definition of disability.

Two different laws back up an IEP and a 504 Plan. 

IEP

An IEP falls under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. IDEA is a federal education law requiring school districts to offer free and appropriate public education (FAPE)  in the least restrictive environment. 

There are 13 disability categories under the IDEA, and specific learning disabilities are one of them: 

  • Specific Learning Disability (SLD)

Must affect one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell or do mathematical calculations. Under the IDEA students can be identified as having specific learning disabilities in one or more of the following skill areas:

  • Oral expression
  • Listening comprehension
  • Basic reading skills
  • Reading fluency skills
  • Reading comprehension
  • Mathematics calculation
  • Mathematics problem solving

The SLD category includes dyslexia (word reading), dyscalculia (mathematics), and dysgraphia (writing), but not ADHD. 

  • Other Health Impairment (OHI): having limited strength, vitality, or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment. 
    • ADHD falls under this category. 

Other categories include autism, deaf-blindness, deafness, developmental delay, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury, and visual impairment, including blindness.

504 Plan

A 504 Plan comes from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. 

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act has a broader definition of the term ‘disability’ than the IDEA.  Section 504 requires the student to have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.  Sometimes students who don’t qualify for an IEP can get the support and accommodations they need through a 504 plan. 


Different Components

IEP: A detailed plan that sets goals, outlines supports, and measures a student's achievement

504 Plan: Outlines changes in environment, instruction, or how the curriculum is presented

An IEP and 504 Plan differ in what they contain. Unlike an IEP, there is no standard 504 Plan. A 504 Plan can be a written document, but it doesn’t have to be. 

IEP

An IEP will include: 

-A statement of the student’s present levels of academic achievement and performance

-A statement of measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals

-A description of how the student’s progress towards meeting the annual goals will be measured, and when reports on the progress will be made

– A statement of the special education and related services and supplementary aids to be provided to the student, and a statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided for the student

-An explanation of the extent, if any, to which the student will not participate with nondisabled students in the regular class and other activities

-The projected date for the beginning of the services and modifications.

504 Plan

A 504 Plan can include: 

– Changes in the environment, like taking tests in a quiet place

-Changes in instruction, like checking in frequently on key concepts

-Changes to how the curriculum is presented, like getting outlines of lessons


Different Approaches

IEP: Reevaluation required at least once every three years. An annual IEP meeting is also required. 

504 Plan: Reevaluation required periodically. A yearly review is recommended

IEP

An IEP requires a re-evaluation every three years, or more frequently if needed. 

It is also required to have an IEP meeting at least once a year, though you can have an IEP meeting as frequently as you would like. IEP meetings are designed to review the student’s progress, write new goals if they’ve been reached, and if they haven’t, find out why. 

These meetings are made up of an IEP team or committee. By law, an IEP committee is required to be made up of:

-The student (if applicable)

-A parent/caregiver/guardian

-An administrator

-One general education teacher of the student

-One special education teacher of the student

-Translator (if applicable)* 

-Assessment personnel 

*The school must provide an interpreter if needed, and all documents must be translated into your native language. Let the school know in advance if you will need a translator. 

Optional Members of the IEP team can include:

-school psychologist

-special education coordinator

-case manager if applicable

-school district representative

-advocate

504 Plan

A 504 Plan requires periodic re-evaluation; there is no exact wording on frequency. A yearly review is recommended. A school district is required to re-evaluate prior to a significant change of placement. 

Parents or educators can request a re-evaluation for both plans at any time, but no more than once a year. 


Transitional Differences

IEP: Provides postsecondary transition services, may or may not be accepted to provide accommodations in postsecondary education

504 Plan: Provides postsecondary transition services, may or may not be accepted to provide accommodations in postsecondary education

Both an IEP and 504 Plan serve students ages 3-21, and do not necessarily carry over into college or other postsecondary education programs. Some colleges, universities, and other postsecondary programs will accept an IEP or 504 Plan as proof of a disability to provide accommodations, but it varies from institution to institution. 

Both an IEP and 504 Plans may have pre-employment transition services in place to support students from high school to the next stage of their life. Services under both plans should be customized to address the student’s individual goals and needs.

IEP

IEP Transition Services

Postsecondary transition services are an essential part of the IDEA, and are included as part of an IEP. These transition services must be addressed when a student with an IEP turns 16, or younger if determined by the IEP team. 

504 Plan

504 Plan Transition Services

Under the Rehabilitation Act, students with a 504 Plan are entitled to pre-employment or vocational rehabilitation services.  

These transition services can include: 

-Job exploration counseling

-Work-based learning experiences

-Counseling on opportunities for enrollment in postsecondary educational programs

-Workplace readiness training

-Self-advocacy instruction

Learn more about transitional services under the IDEA and Rehabilitation Act here.