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IEP and 504 Plan: What’s the Difference?

IEP and 504 Plan: What’s the Difference?

By JT Kordesich, TLC After-School Program Director


If you’re a parent of a school-aged child with school challenges, the road to success can feel dauntingYou could have trouble getting in contact with teachers and support staff while struggling to keep your child on task, happy, and organized. As you walk into a meeting about your child’s progress, you are presented with an “alphabet soup” of terms: IEP, 504, SDI, PBSP, NOREP, and more.  When presented with these options, parents (and even some educators) are at a loss as to the difference between an IEP and a 504 for helping students who require accommodations to access educational content.  


An Individualized Education Program, or IEP, is a legal document that is designed to create a comprehensive plan of goals, supports, and services for students with special education needs. This document and its contents are governed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA lays out requirements that schools create and implement individualized plans for students who meet two requirements: 

  1. The student has a disability that falls into one of the 13 listed categories.  
  2. The student’s disability prevents them from benefiting from the general education curriculum.  

An IEP is a very involved document, as it involves examining student’s academic and behavioral performance through an educational assessment. Other portions of the IEP include planning and monitoring yearly goals, transitioning to post-secondary education or work, and providing extra services for students based on their needs. It also features details about how much of the day the student spends in general and special education environments, accommodations the student can receive, and modifications to help the student receive a free, appropriate public education.  

504 Plan  

A 504 plan is also a legal document, regulated by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. However, there is no required format that is used, so 504 plans can vary based on state or district requirements. A child can receive a 504 plan if they meet two requirements: 

  1. The student has a disability. 
  2. The student’s disability interferes with their ability to learn in a general education environment. 

Because these requirements are more broad, students may be eligible for a 504 plan, even if they don’t qualify for an IEP.   

504 plans do not include goals or evaluations of present levels, nor do they cover specialized instruction. Rather, they include only accommodations, modifications, or services to help students to succeed in the general education curriculum.  

Which one is best? 

Knowing the difference between these two variations of special education documents can help you to make a more informed decision about which one is right for your child. However, this situation is different for each student, and can even change from year to year. The short answer is that each plan has its place, and both are valuable tools for helping students to achieve their potential! 

If you have questions about your child’s needs, always remember that Total Learning Center’s free consultations with our education experts are available to get you the answers and resources you need.

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