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What is the difference between an IEP and a 504 plan?

An IEP is an Individualized Education Program (or Plan) that is required for any child who qualifies as a student with a disability under your state’s law, and as a result of the disability, the student requires “specially designed instruction” to make progress in the general education setting, or requires one or more services to access the general curriculum.

That’s a lot of jargon—what does it really mean?

  1. The student has one or more of the qualifying disabilities, and
  2. The disability affects how the student learns and makes academic progress, so they need some specialized instruction.

The list of qualifying disabilities under federal law is:

  • Autism
  • Deaf-blindness
  • Deafness
  • Emotional disturbance
  • Hearing impairment
  • Intellectual disability
  • Multiple disabilities
  • Orthopedic impairment
  • Other health impairment
  • Specific learning disability
  • Speech or language impairment
  • Traumatic brain injury

In short, an IEP describes the special instruction or services that a student needs in order to access the curriculum. The student may work with a learning specialist within the general education classroom, outside the general education classroom, or a combination of both. An IEP may include modifications, or changes to the curriculum itself. For example, your child might read the same story as everyone else, just at a different reading level.

On the other hand, a 504 plan describes accommodations that will help the student succeed in the classroom and follow the curriculum – but without changing the curriculum itself. Accommodations are often small changes that might include sitting up front near the teacher, taking frequent breaks, or receiving extra time on tests. Again, accommodations do not change the curriculum that the student receives.

Remember, the law requires that students with disabilities receive their education in the least restrictive environment, like the general education classroom, alongside their mainstream peers to the greatest extent possible. You can learn more about that here.

Be sure to visit our Special Education Guide for tips as you prepare for your next meeting!
Start our Special Education Guide

Other blogs you might be interested in reading:

Heres what you need to know about special education        Is the IEP team the same as the 504 Team?

Meet your childs iep tem        Who can I bring to an IEP meeting

What information goes into an IEP

Source: IDEA Sec. 300.8(c)

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