What is an IEP vs. a 504 Plan?

By Huntington Learning Center

If you have a student with unique learning needs or a learning disability, you’ve probably heard of the Individualized Education Plan, better known as the IEP, and the Section 504 plan.  Both plans offer accommodations for students from kindergarten through twelfth grade and allow students with learning difficulties to receive help if they qualify. 

These two things are not exactly the same. Both the IEP and the 504 plan are intended to help students with disabilities succeed in the classroom, but parents often want to know how exactly.

What is an IEP?  

An IEP is a written document created for each child who receives any special education and related services from their school. The IEP is covered under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  

How does a student receive an IEP? It often starts with a teacher or parent requesting that a child be evaluated for eligibility for special education services. Once a student is identified as having a disability as defined by IDEA (they have 13 categories of qualifying disabilities), the school’s IEP team meets with the parents to discuss any concerns and needs of the student. At this point, an IEP is written that parents, teachers and others involved in the child’s education each review. The document identifies any accommodations, modifications, and supports that must be provided to the student.   

What is a 504 plan?  

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protects qualified individuals from discrimination based on their disabilities. The 504 plan is developed by schools to ensure students with disabilities are given equal opportunity to succeed. If a student’s disability is substantially limiting their ability to fully participate in academic and non-academic activities, the school must provide accommodations. Those might include shortened assignments, allowing frequent breaks, extra time on tests, or a quiet room to take quizzes/exams.  

What’s the difference between an IEP and a 504 plan?  

There are several similarities and distinctions between the IEP and the 504 plan: 

  • IEPs include information about a student’s level of performance and learning goals as well as their progress throughout the year. 504 plans do not. 
  • Because IEPs include academic goals, benchmarks, measurements and more, they tend to be more thorough than 504 plans. 504 plans often involve fewer people from the school to create. 
  • IEPs are created for students who need specialized instruction to learn effectively in a typical classroom curriculum. There are 13 disabilities categories defined by IDEA that qualify a child for an IEP (if their education is impacted):  
    • Specific learning disability (includes dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, etc.) 
    • Autism Spectrum Disorder 
    • Emotional disturbance (includes anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and others) 
    • Speech or language impairment 
    • Visual impairment 
    • Deafness 
    • Hearing impairment 
    • Deaf-blindness 
    • Orthopedic impairment 
    • Intellectual disability (such as Down syndrome) 
    • Traumatic brain injury 
    • Multiple disabilities 
    • Other (includes ADHD, asthma, diabetes, Tourette’s syndrome, and others) 
  • 504 plans are often created for students who are capable of learning and succeeding in the classroom alongside their “typical” peers if provided the right accommodations. So, students who have a disability as defined by IDEA might receive a 504 plan instead of an IEP if that better suits their needs. An example of this is a student with ADHD who simply needs additional time to complete assignments and tests and a quiet room for test taking. 

If your child is struggling in school and you know it is at least in part due to their struggles with a learning disability or other learning issue, your first step should be to explore your student’s eligibility for either a 504 plan or an IEP.  

Huntington can help too. Our tutoring programs are comprehensive and see great results. We help students gain critical skills they will use in school and the rest of their lives, such as time management, organization, focus and more.