What is the difference between an IEP and a 504?

IEPIn the world of education, it can be difficult to decipher the difference between an IEP (Individualized Educational Program) and a 504 plan. Both plans offer formal help for students K-12th grades with learning and attention issues and they do have some similarities but at closer look they are very different.

An IEP is a plan for a child’s special education experience at school. It provides individualized special education related services to meet the unique needs of the child. It applies to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IEP sets learning goals for the child an describes the services the school will give to them in a written document.

504 is a plan addressing how a child will have access to learning at school. It provides services and changes to the learning environment to meet the needs of the child as adequately as other students. It applies to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. There is no standard plan for a 504 and it does not have to be a written document; it generally includes specific accommodations, supports or services for the child and who will provide those services, and who is responsible for ensuring the plan is implemented.

So, what are the similarities of the two plans?

  • Both are provided at no cost to the students
  • Parent consent to implement is required
  • Both are reviewed annually

However, when we start to look at the differences the list gets much longer.

  • IEPs are individualized educational programs, but 504s are only accommodations to the learning environment for the student
  • IEP has benchmark goals specific to the student, but the 504s do not
  • IEPs must have one of 13 specific disabilities listed in IDEA and it must affect the child’s education performance, while a 504 plan includes any disability such as learning and attention issues. Thus, a 504 has a much broader definition of disability that IDEA
  • IEP allows parents to ask the school to pay for an independent educational evaluation (IEE), but a 504 does not allow parents to ask for an (IEE)
  • An IEP must be in writing, but a 504 does not need to be in writing
  • IEPs receive additional funding from the state for eligible students; 504s do not receive extra funding and the IEP funding cannot be used for 504s

IEPs and 504 can be complicated and difficult to decipher; however, there is a great visual from Understood that can help you along the way.

In addition to materials you can find on the web, Play Attention can help you navigate the world of IEPs and 504 plans. In partnership with Additude Magazine, we provide a great deal of quality information to help you through the process. Furthermore, Play Attention is a great program to help complement any IEP or 504 plans, because attention difficulties are addressed through strengthening cognitive skills and executive function. By integrating real-time feedback technology with cognitive skills training, and behavioral shaping we can strengthen Executive Function and improve attention difficulties.