Are evaluations for IEPs and 504 plans different?


Technically speaking, yes. The evaluations are different because Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 plans are covered by different laws. They also serve different purposes. But sometimes, an IEP evaluation can also serve as a 504 plan evaluation.

Broadly speaking, an IEP provides special education supports and services. That includes specially designed instruction. The purpose of a 504 plan is to provide supports so a student has access to learning. That typically means accommodations and perhaps some related services. Occasionally special instruction can be included, but not often.

A look at the laws behind IEPs and 504 plans explains why they have different evaluations.

An IEP is covered under , which entitles students with disabilities to a . The law covers 13 categories of disability. To get an IEP, a student must qualify under one of those categories. A student with a learning or thinking difference may fall into one of them.

To know if your child qualifies, a full evaluation is required. This involves educational testing and other assessments. The IEP team has to look at all of a student’s needs in these areas:

  • Health

  • Vision

  • Social and emotional development

  • Learning potential

  • Academic performance

  • Communication skills

  • Motor skills

504 plans work differently. They’re covered by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, a civil rights law. Their purpose is to give students with physical or mental “impairments” access to education.

In order to be eligible for a 504 plan, a student must have a condition that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Learning is one of those life activities.

For a 504 plan, the student doesn’t need to have the full evaluation that’s required for an IEP, however. The student only needs to have a disability that qualifies under Section 504. So the evaluation might include:

  • A review of work

  • A review of medical records and evaluation reports

  • Direct observation

  • Interview with the student, parent, and school personnel

  • Other assessments

If that’s all the 504 team needs to determine if the student is eligible, then that’s all the evaluation will include. But sometimes the team wants more information. It might ask for other testing. Or it might request a full evaluation like the one required for an IEP.

Despite their differences, IEPs and 504s have the same goal: to get kids the help they need. The evaluation process can be complex, however, so it helps to know as much as possible going into it. Get more details on how evaluations for IEPs work. And see a visual guide that lays out the different steps in the evaluation process.


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