The difference between IEPs and 504 plans

Both IEPs and 504 plans offer formal help for K–12 students who are struggling in school. They’re similar in some ways but different in others — from who can get them to what they include. Learn more about the key differences.

IEPs and 504 plans are both designed to support students with learning challenges. But they work in different ways. This comparison chart shows the differences.



504 plan

What it is

A written plan that provides free special education services, related services, and supports to meet a child’s unique needs. That includes specialized instruction.

A plan for how the school will provide free supports and remove barriers so a student can learn alongside peers.

What law applies

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): This is a federal special education law for kids with disabilities.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973: This is a federal civil rights law to stop discrimination against people with disabilities.

Who can get a plan

A child must have one or more of the 13 disabilities listed in IDEA. The disability must affect educational performance and/or the ability to learn and benefit from the general education curriculum. The child must need specialized instruction to make progress in school.

A child must have any type of disability that interferes with the ability to learn in a general education classroom. The disability must substantially limit one or more basic life activities. Since the requirements are broader, a child who doesn’t qualify for an IEP might still be able to get a 504 plan.

Who creates the plan

With a few exceptions, the entire IEP team must be present for IEP meetings. The team includes:

The child’s parent or caregiver

At least one of the child’s general education teachers

At least one special education teacher

A school psychologist or other specialist who can interpret evaluation results

A district representative with authority over special education services

The rules for who participates are less specific. The team includes people who are familiar with the child and who understand the evaluation data and special services options. This might include:

The child’s parent or caregiver

General and special education teachers

The school principal

What’s in the plan

The written IEP plan sets learning goals. It must include:

How the child is doing in school (present level of performance)

Annual education goals and how the school will track progress

The services the child will get, including special education and related services

The timing of services (when they start, how often they occur, and how long they last)

Any accommodations (changes to the child’s learning environment)

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’s no standard 504 plan. Unlike an IEP, a 504 plan doesn’t have to be a written document. Plans generally include:

Specific accommodations, supports, or services for the child

Names of who will provide each service

Name of the person responsible for making sure the plan is implemented


The school has to tell families in writing before making a change in services or placement. Notice is also required for any IEP meetings and evaluations.

The school must notify families about an evaluation or a “significant change” in placement. Schools don’t have to put it in writing, but most do anyway.


A parent or caregiver must consent in writing for the school to evaluate a child. They must also give written consent before the school can provide the services in an IEP.

A parent or caregiver’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 plan at least once a year. The child 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.

How to resolve disputes

IDEA gives families several ways to resolve disputes with the school.

Section 504 gives families several ways to resolve disputes with the school.

Learn more about special education terms. Check out a visual aid that shows what goes into an IEP. Download a sample 504 plan.

Do you want to learn more about how IEPs and 504 plans compare? Watch as an expert explains the differences between them.


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