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In the United States, if your child is falling behind the expected average in his or her schoolwork, some kind of educational plan may be drafted, approved and implemented. This may be due to a behavioral  emotional, academic or medical issue – in any of these cases, the process will be similar. The resulting document is called an IEP (Individualized Education Program) or a 504.

But what’s the difference between an IEP vs 504 Plan? Why two different names? Which plan the child falls under is determined by the severity of the disability and the services required to assist the child in the learning environment.

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Individualized Education Program

An IEP is created for a student who needs specialized instruction or services based on the guidelines established in the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). A child who has an IEP has disabilities that effect more than just learning and require additional services that the teacher cannot provide. For example, a child who has speech issues will qualify for speech therapy which under an IEP would be provided by the school speech therapist. Another example would be a child who struggles with writing (dysgraphia) and requires an occupational therapist to assist in building physical writing skills.

IEP plans are determined with input from a variety of specialists in addition to the parent – who is of course the topmost specialist in their child! After the meeting, goals with measurable outcomes will be set to be reviewed every quarter. The IEP is reviewed annually and the child is reassessed every 3 years to determine if they still qualify for services. IEP plans usually come at cost to the school due to additional support services required.

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504 Plan

A 504 Plan is used for children who have some form of disability, but one that is not as pervasive as a child with an IEP. A child with a 504 would not receive any services outside the classroom, but instead would receive accommodations in the classroom to help equalize the playing field so their disability does not put them behind their peers. For example, if a child has a hearing impairment, the child would get to sit in the front of the classroom to hear the teacher more easily. Similarly a child with dyslexia may be given more time on tests or may be given written class notes. A 504 can also be drafted for a child with medical or mental disabilities, such cancer or bipolar disorder. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act covers the accommodations that are provided under a 504 plan.

A 504 plan is decided on after meetings with parents, teachers and special education specialists at the school. A diagnosis of a disability is generally required, although the school may offer testing to determine if a child qualifies. After a discussion about what needs to be put in place to help the child achieve his or her potential, specific classroom accommodations are established. The 504 Plan is renewed at the beginning of each school year, and would need to be refreshed if the child were to change schools. A 504 plan can be constructed without external input, so does not indicate any additional administrative cost for the school.


Bonnie Landau runs the California support and marketing office for the Easyread System, an online phonics course specifically developed for kids with dyslexia, auditory processing disorder and highly visual learning styles. She has two twice exceptional boys and invests a great deal of her time finding solutions to help them overcome their learning challenges. Find out more about how Easyread can provide support for spelling and reading problems at