Both Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 plans can offer formal help for K–12 students with learning and attention issues. They’re similar in some ways but quite different in others. This chart compares them side-by-side to help you understand the differences.
A blueprint or plan for a child’s special education experience at school.
A blueprint or plan for how a child will have access to learning at school.
What It Does
Provides individualized special education and related services to meet the unique needs of the child.
These services are provided at no cost to parents.
Provides services and changes to the learning environment to meet the needs of the child as adequately as other students.
As with IEPs, a 504 plan is provided at no cost to parents.
What Law Applies
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
This is a federal special education law for children with disabilities.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
This is a federal civil rights law to stop discrimination against people with disabilities.
The disability must affect the child’s educational performance and/or ability to learn and benefit from the general education curriculum.
To get a 504 plan, there are two requirements:
A child has any disability, which can include many learning or attention issues.
The disability must interfere with the child’s ability to learn in a general education classroom. Section 504 has a broader definition of a disability than IDEA. That’s why a child who doesn’t qualify for an IEP might still be able to get a 504 plan.
Any modifications—changes to what the child is expected to learn or know
How the child will participate in standardized tests
How the child will be included in general education classes and school activities
There is no standard 504 plan. Unlike an IEP, a 504 plan doesn’t have to be a written document.
A 504 plan generally includes the following:
Specific accommodations, supports or services for the child
Names of who will provide each service
Name of the person responsible for ensuring the plan is implemented
When the school wants to change a child’s services or placement, it has to tell parents in writing before the change. This is called prior written notice. Notice is also required for any IEP meetings and evaluations.
Parents also have “stay put” rights to keep services in place while there’s a dispute.
The school must notify parents about evaluation or a “significant change” in placement. Notice doesn’t have to be in writing, but most schools do so anyway.
A parent must consent in writing for the school to evaluate a child. Parents must also consent in writing before the school can provide services in an IEP.
A parent’s consent is required for the school district to evaluate a child.
How Often It's Reviewed and Revised
The IEP team must review the IEP at least once a year.
The student must be reevaluated every three years to determine whether services are still needed.
The rules vary by state. Generally, a 504 plan is reviewed each year and a reevaluation is done every three years or when needed.