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IEP and 504 Plans: What's the Difference?

In your student's educational career, providing in-school support is paramount to ensure they have equal access to learning opportunities. Two common tools used in the United States to provide such support are Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 plans. While both aim to address the needs of students with disabilities, they differ in their scope, eligibility criteria, and implementation. Let's delve into each plan to better understand their purpose and differences.

Individualized Education Program (IEP)

What is an IEP?

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a legal document designed to outline the individualized educational goals and support services for students with disabilities. It is a comprehensive plan developed collaboratively by a team of educators, parents or guardians, and specialists to address the unique needs of the student.

Who is Eligible for an IEP?

IEPs are governed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and are intended for students who qualify for special education services under one of the specific disability categories outlined in the law. These categories include conditions such as autism, intellectual disabilities, specific learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, and others. Dyslexia falls under the "specific learning disability" category.

Components of an IEP
  • Present levels of academic achievement and functional performance

  • Annual educational goals and objectives

  • Special education and related services

  • Accommodations and modifications

  • Progress monitoring and reporting

  • Transition planning (for students approaching adulthood)

504 Plan

What is a 504 Plan?

The name "504" refers to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination based on disability in programs receiving federal funding. A 504 plan is a formal plan that provides accommodations and support services to students with disabilities who do not qualify for special education services under IDEA but still require accommodations to participate fully in the educational setting. Common uses of a 504 plan are for accommodations for students with mental health issues, ADHD, and behavior problems.

Who is Eligible for a 504 Plan?

To be eligible for a 504 plan, a student must have a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities, such as learning, walking, seeing, hearing, or caring for oneself. This can include conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), diabetes, asthma, or anxiety disorders.They are also sometimes used when the student is not scoring low enough on academic and cognitive tests to qualify for an IEP, but need classroom accommodation in order to be successful.

Components of a 504 Plan

  • Identification of the student's impairment and its impact on learning

  • Accommodations and modifications to address the student's needs

  • Provisions for the implementation and monitoring of accommodations

  • Periodic review and updates as needed

Comparing IEPs and 504 Plans

1. Eligibility Criteria:

  •    IEP: Eligibility is based on meeting specific disability criteria outlined in IDEA.

  •    504 Plan: Eligibility is based on having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits major life activities. Documentation of the impairment is also usually required.

2. Scope of Services:

  •    IEP: Provides specialized instruction, related services, and accommodations tailored to the student's individual needs. Services are typically provided in a separate setting during the school day.

  •    504 Plan: Focuses on providing accommodations and support services to ensure equal access to education.

3. Legal Framework:

  •    IEP: Governed by IDEA, which mandates procedural safeguards and requirements for the development and implementation of the plan.

  •    504 Plan: Governed by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination based on disability in federally funded programs.

4. Development Process:

   - IEP: Requires a comprehensive evaluation, development of individualized goals, and annual review by a multidisciplinary team. Because IEPs are legally enforceable and are granted to students with significant need, it is often very difficult to get an IEP and can months of back and forth to even get the initial meeting scheduled. Check out our article on the long journey to being diagnosed with dyslexia and consider action now if you are interested in an IEP for your student.

   - 504 Plan: Requires an evaluation to determine eligibility and the development of accommodations by a team that may include parents, teachers, and school administrators.


Both IEPs and 504 plans play crucial roles in providing support and accommodations for students with disabilities or learning differences. While IEPs are designed for students who qualify for special education services under IDEA, 504 plans offer accommodations to students with disabilities who do not meet the criteria for special education but still require support. All of our students with dyslexia currently have an IEP, and it is our recommendation that the earlier you reach out to your child's school for an IEP evaluation, the better. If their dyslexia is very mild, or they have outside tutoring from an evidence-based method like the Wilson Reading System and do not need one on one services during the school day, then a 504 is a great way to ensure your student still has some accommodations for things like testing.


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