• Stacy Zebrick

IEP VS 504: What's the Difference?

There are two types of written plans – an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 Plan that can be developed and implemented by local schools regarding students with identified disabilities. Both are federally mandated but fall under two separate laws. They each provide for the student to receive a free and appropriate education within the least restrictive environment. However, these two plans serve different purposes, according to the needs of the child. Let's look at some questions, similarities, and differences regarding the two plans.


What is an IEP? and what are the qualifications for one?


The IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) law provides federal funds to state and local agencies to guarantee special education and related services to children with disabilities. To be eligible for an IEP, your child must meet these criteria:


  • Be between the ages of 3 and 21

  • Have an identified disability that impedes learning to the point that the child needs specialized instruction in order to close the gap between the child’s own academic achievement and that of his/her age peers. (Whether your child has a qualifying disability is determined at an IEP meeting, using the results of standardized assessments as well as other informal and formal data collection. It requires unanimous agreement from the members of a multidisciplinary team that includes one or more of the following: special educator, psychologist, parent, related service provider, and general education teacher. Additional members of the team include other individuals with knowledge or expertise regarding the child, and a representative of the local school agency who is qualified to provide or supervise specially designed instruction for children with disabilities. This person is usually an administrator familiar with the general education curriculum and the resources of the local school agency. The team must agree that your child’s disability falls under one of the 13 federally mandated categories and that it interferes with the child’s education and performance).


What is 504? and what are the qualifications for one?


As part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Congress passed Section 504. This civil rights law protects people with disabilities by eliminating barriers and allowing full participation in areas of life such as education and the workplace. Section 504 is intended to prohibit disability discrimination by recipients of federal financial assistance and by public entities.


A 504 Plan is for students who have a disability, have a record of a disability, or are treated as having a disability but do not qualify for special education services under IDEA. For example, let’s say that a child has cerebral palsy. While it does not interfere with the student’s progress in the general curriculum, it does require the child to use special equipment to access his/her education.


Before deciding whether a student is eligible for this type of plan, the child must be assessed and the school team must agree that the child has a substantial and pervasive impairment in order to be eligible under this federal law. The purpose of a 504 Plan is to level the playing field and allow a child to get the accommodations and modifications needed to access the curriculum at the same level as his or her peers.


How Does an IEP Compare with a 504 Plan?


The contents of an IEP are specified by law . This type of plan must contain:(504 does NOT included the following)

  • The student’s present level of performance

  • How the child’s disability affects participation in the general education curriculum

  • Measurable annual goals and objectives related to the child’s needs resulting from the child’s disability

  • A statement of special education-related services, supplementary aids, and other services to be provided

  • Descriptions of program modifications and supports for school personnel

  • Explanation of the extent, if any, to which the child will not participate with non-disabled children

  • Explanation as to how the parents of the child will regularly be informed of the child’s progress toward the annual goals

  • A statement of whether the child will take district or state-wide achievement tests and if those tests will be taken with or without accommodations or modifications

  • Explanation of why the child will not participate in such assessments if the IEP team makes that decision

  • A statement of how the student will be tested if the district or state-wide tests are not used

  • Projected date for initiating services and modifications and the frequency, duration, and location of those services and modifications

  • The need for an extended school year

  • Transition requirements for students aged 14 and older.


A 504 often means identifying reasonable accommodations to help the student succeed in the classroom.


An accommodation plan usually addresses the following:

  • Nature of the disability and major life activity it limits

  • Basis for determining the disability

  • Educational impact of the disability

  • Necessary accommodations

  • Placement in the least restrictive environment (LRE)


Click on the following links for more information: Individualized Education Program (IEP), A Parent's Guide to Section 504, Wrightslaw: Discrimination: Section 504 and ADA, Wrightslaw: Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)


Click here if you are looking for a psychoeducational evaluation for your child.

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