504s vs. IEPs


Both IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) and 504 plans give special support to children with differences. Yet, there are key differences between 504s and IEPs. Knowing these differences helps you know which is the right plan for your child.


How Are They Similar?

Both plans provide accommodations – special supports and tools to let children access learning and school activities. Also, both options stay with the child year after year until it is decided that a child no longer needs the support.


How Are They Different?

Having only a 504 plan does not mean you receive “special education.” Having an IEP does. Special education means you have a diagnosed learning disability, and you are to receive specialized, individualized instruction as you work toward unique learning goals. It also means you will receive progress updates based on those goals in addition to other, more standard types of progress reports.


The biggest difference is how a child qualifies for either plan. Each state has specific qualification criteria to qualify for special education/an IEP. These criteria start with the 13 categories of disability in IDEA. That’s the Individuals with Education Act, the federal law over special education.

To qualify for an IEP, a psychologist must complete a psycho-educational evaluation. This evaluation is a deep and comprehensive look at your child, and it includes standardized assessments. A child must meet the state criteria for a specific learning disability. The learning disability must impact a child’s ability to meet expectations in a way that cannot be solved by accommodations alone.


The criteria are not as strict with a 504 plan. With a 504 plan, a team makes an evaluation based on a variety of sources such as teacher observations, medical diagnoses, or anecdotal evidence. 504 plan qualification does not include the standardized assessments that psychologists use to diagnose learning disabilities. With a 504, you are found to have a disability, but not a learning disability.


What Else is Different? 

With an IEP, your child will receive a review of their plan at least once a year. There is no requirement to review a 504 plan once a year, though most schools do as a best practice.


A school cannot provide an IEP/special education to your child without your permission. They can complete a 504 plan and provide services without your permission, though most schools involve parents.





We help parents who are frustrated with schools and the world of special education.


See how we help.


Could this help anyone you know?