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Differences Between IEP and 504

Basic Descriptions:

  1. IEP - A written document that outlines a child’s individual learning needs and goals, the services the school will provide, and how progress will be measured.

  2. 504 - A written document that outlines accommodations to the general curriculum that will allow a child to access learning at school.

What it does:

  1. IEP - Provides individualized special education and related services (speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, etc.) to meet the unique needs of the child.

  2. 504 - Provides accommodations, such as services or changes to the learning environment, to meet the needs of a child as adequately as other students in the general curriculum.

What law applies:

  1. IEP - The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

  2. 504 - Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act

Who is eligible:

  1. IEP - Children confirmed as having one of the 13 specific disabilities outlined in IDEA, confirmed by a multi-factored evaluation for special education. The child’s disability must affect the child’s academic performance to a degree that does not allow him/her to access the general curriculum.

  2. 504 - Any child with any disability, including many learning or attention issues. The disability must interfere with a child’s ability to learn in a general education classroom. Section 504 has a broader definition of a disability than IDEA which is why some children qualify for a 504 plan but not an IEP.

Who creates the plan:

  1. IEP - There are strict legal guidelines about who participates in creating the IEP. Minimum team members include: parents/guardians, regular education teacher, intervention specialist, and district representative.

  2. 504 - There are no specific guidelines as to who participates in creating a 504 plan. Most teams include: parents/guardians, regular education teacher, and building administrator.

What's in the plan:

  1. IEP - Present levels of academic performance; annual goals in each area of need; services the child will receive; timing of services; accommodations; modifications; how the student will participate in standardized testing; and how the child will participate in general education.

  2. 504 - There is no standard 504 plan. However, the following are generally included: disability impacting performance, specific accommodations/supports/services for the child, and designation of responsible parties for implementing each item included in the plan.

Parent notice:

  1. IEP - Prior written notice is required before any changes in the child’s educational placement. It is also required for any IEP meetings or multifactored evaluations.

  2. 504 - School must notify parents about a 504 evaluation or “significant change” in placement; written record not required.

Parent consent:

  1. IEP - Parent must sign consent for evaluation and provision of IEP services.

  2. 504 - Parent must sign consent for evaluation but not for accommodations.


  1. IEP - IEP is reviewed yearly by the IEP team. Re-evaluation occurs every three years to determine whether services are still needed.

  2. 504 - Laws vary by state but generally follow the one-year review and three-year re-evaluation principle.

Resolving disputes:

  1. IEP - Mediation; due process complaint; resolution session; civil lawsuit; state complaint; lawsuit.

  2. 504 - Mediation; alternative dispute resolution; impartial hearing; complaint to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR); lawsuit.

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