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  • Sarah Kupfer, Psy.D., LP

What is an IEP and 504?

We often get questions from families that we work with about how their child can receive accommodations at school related to a diagnosed difference that impacts their learning. These conversations often include an explanation of an individualized education program (IEP) and 504 plan. IEPs and 504 plans are similar, in some ways, and different in others. This can often make it confusing for families trying to advocate for what their child needs. The following information will hopefully make the similarities and differences more understandable.


Both an IEP and a 504 plan outline what an individual student needs to be successful at school and how the school will meet the student’s unique needs.


One of the first distinctions between an IEP and a 504 plan is how a student qualifies for supports or services. In order for a student to qualify for an IEP, they must have one of thirteen disabilities listed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). If a student has one of these disabilities AND also (due to the disability) struggles to learn within the general education classroom, the student qualifies for an IEP. To qualify for a 504 plan, a student can have any disability that interferes with their ability to learn. This means that if your child does not qualify for an IEP, they may qualify for a 504 plan.


Another distinction between an IEP and a 504 plan is related to what is provided. For an IEP, a student receives individualized special education services (since he or she cannot learn within a general education classroom). For a 504 plan, a student receives accommodations to the learning environment so that he or she can learn within the general education classroom. What does this actually look like for a student? A student who receives support through an IEP meets in a small group setting to gain additional reading instruction. A student with a 504 plan can complete tests in a separate (oftentimes distraction free) space.

Differences–What is included

An IEP must include specific information about the student, their learning, and the school environment. Below is what must be included within an IEP.

  • Current levels of performance (how the student is currently doing in school)

  • Annual educational goals, as well as objectives

  • The services the student will receive

  • The timing of the services (when do the services start and end, how frequently to they occur, and for how long)

  • Any accommodations (changes to the learning environment)

  • Any modifications (changes to the expectations for the student)

  • How the student will participate in standardized testing

  • How the student will be included in general education and school activities

In contrast, there is no standard 504 plan and the plan does not have to be a written document (although this is often helpful). Typically, a 504 plan will include:

  • Accommodations, supports, or services provided

  • The name of the person providing the accommodations, supports, or services

  • The name of the person responsible for ensuring the 504 plan is being implemented within the classroom

  • For a student, a 504 plan may look like:

  • John has the ability to use headphones while completing tests within the classroom. John (and/or the classroom teacher) will ensure that headphones are at school and available as needed for tests.

Still feeling confused? You are not alone! has a great chart that provides a side-by-side comparison of IEPs and 504 Plans, as well as additional resources!

Pacer has a .pdf for families living in Minnesota who want more information about IEPs and the IEP process.

Contact us with questions or to schedule an evaluation to help identify learning differences or a possible disability.

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