Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 Plans

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Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, Justice Center of Southeastern Massachusetts, and Massachusetts Advocates for Children

If your child qualifies for a 504 Plan or an IEP, they can get accommodations like:

  • more time on tests
  • sitting close to the teacher
  • organizers, and
  • breaks.

They can get services like:

  • counseling,
  • special help in reading or math in a small group,
  • physical therapy, and
  • speech and language therapy.

Your child can get many other kinds of services and support. Everything your child gets should be tailored to fit their unique needs.

Can my child get a 504 Plan?

To be eligible for a 504 plan, your child must attend a school that gets federal funding. Most public schools and some private schools get federal funding.


  • Your child must be of school age.
  • Your child must have a record that shows they have a mental, psychological, or physical disability. And,
  • The disability must “substantially limit one or more major life activities.” Major life activities are activities like walking, seeing, writing and learning.

Your child may be eligible for a 504 plan if they have a temporary disability, like a concussion, that limits a major life activity.

Ask the school to test your child. Your child must be found “eligible” to get accommodations, services, and supports. They need an evaluation to find out if they are eligible. Learn how to ask for an evaluation.

Can my child get an Individualized Education Program (IEP)?

Your child is eligible for an IEP if:

  • They have one of the following disabilities:
    • Autism,
    • Developmental Delay,
    • Intellectual,
    • Sensory: hearing, vision, deaf or blind,
    • Neurological,
    • Emotional,
    • Communication,
    • Physical,
    • Specific Learning,
    • Health - Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
    • And,
  • They are not making “effective progress” in school, and
  • They are not making effective progress because of their disability, and,
  • To make effective progress, they need specially designed instruction, related services, or both.

Ask the school to test your child. Your child must be found “eligible” to get accommodations or special education. They need an evaluation to find out if they are eligible. Learn how to ask for an evaluation.

What’s the difference between an IEP and a 504 Plan?

The decision to give your child an IEP or a 504 Plan depends on your child’s needs.

If your child needs accommodations, services, or supports to make sure they get an education like the education their peers get, they will get a 504 Plan.

If your child also needs special education, especially specialized instruction so they can progress in the general curriculum, they will usually get an IEP.

If your child is eligible for an IEP, they are also eligible for a 504 Plan. Any accommodations or information that would be part of the 504 Plan are put in the IEP.

Many students are eligible for a 504 Plan but not an IEP. For example, students with asthma, or students who have a temporary disability like a concussion may get a 504 plan, but might not be eligible for an IEP.

Neither type of plan is better than the other. Both are meant to give your child the help they need to make progress. 

See the chart below for a comparison between 504 Plans and IEPs.

Plan504 PlanIEP
EligibilityA physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity like learning, walking, writing or seeing.Qualifying disabilities.
GoalTo make sure that the child's disability does not stop them from learning, completing their school work, and it is not a barrier to getting around the school building, and participating in school activities as their peers do.To provide specialized instruction or related services to eligible students so they can make progress in the general education curriculum. 
What your child getsServices and accommodations to make sure they get the same  education their peers get.Specialized instruction, related services, and accommodations that are unique to your child's needs.
What should be in a 504 plan?

A 504 Plan describes the services and accommodations your child will get.

The 504 plan should list:

  • Your child’s name and the plan team members.
  • Your child’s disability, impairment or health condition.
  • A summary of how the impairment substantially limits one or more major life activities. And,
  • A statement of the accommodations and services to be provided. 
What should be in an IEP?

An IEP is an “Individualized Education Program.” The IEP lists the instruction, services, support, and accommodations your child needs to learn and make "effective progress".

The School must provide the services the IEP describes. The school can only follow the plan if you sign the document and accept the services.

The IEP describes:

  • how your child learns, and,
  • how the team measures your child’s progress.      

The IEP should list your child’s:

  • current abilities,
  • needs, and
  • learning goals for the next 12 months.

Your child’s IEP Team writes the IEP. Learn more about IEP Teams.

Learn more about the sections of the IEP.

How do I know if the IEP has all the services my child needs?

Gather information about your child’s progress. Talk to their teachers. Keep track of their report cards and progress reports.

If you are concerned that your child is not getting the help they need, ask the school to do an evaluation.

For example:

If your child does not have speech language services, but you think they may need them, ask for an evaluation in speech.

If you disagree with the school’s evaluations, or if you are still unsure if your child needs more or different services, get an independent evaluation.

How do I know if the IEP is helping my child?

The IEP is helping your child if they are making “effective progress.” You can see if they are making “effective progress” if:

  • they are meeting their IEP goals,
  • their goals are challenging enough, and
  • they are learning new information and skills.

You should be able to see their progress.

Your child’s progress reports, report cards, and test scores describe the improvements your child is making.

Progress Reports

Your child’s school sends progress reports and report cards regularly. These reports show if your child is making progress in their classes. If your child has an IEP, the school will also send IEP progress reports that describe if your child is reaching their IEP goals. You should get 4 progress reports a year. Ask the school for the dates they send out IEP progress reports. Remember, besides academics, your child’s IEP goals may also include social, emotional, and daily living goals.

IEP progress reports can be confusing. If you do not understand something in a progress report, ask the school’s special education coordinator to explain it to you.

Can I get help to figure out if the IEP is helping my child?

If you think your child is not making “effective progress,” ask for a Team Meeting. At the meeting tell the Team your child may need a change to their IEP or a different placement. Learn more about IEP Teams.

An independent evaluator can help you understand if your child’s IEP and placement are helping. The evaluator can:

  • Review your child’s school records,
  • Test your child, and
  • Observe them in the classroom.

Talk to other people who work with your child outside of school. Talk to people like therapists and mentors. Ask them what they think your child needs to make effective progress. 

When can my child get a new IEP?

Every year, the IEP Team meets to discuss your child’s progress and if the IEP is working for your child.

Every 3 years, the school must evaluate your child before the IEP Team Meeting. The Team reviews the evaluation. They use it to:

  • Make sure the school is meeting all of your child’s disability needs, and
  • Change the IEP to reflect your child’s growth and progress.
  • Decide if your child is still eligible for an IEP.

You do not have to wait 3 years for another evaluation. You can ask for another evaluation anytime you think your child’s disability-related need is not being met or they have a new disability. See How do I get special education services or accommodations for my child?

Any time you have concerns about your child, you can ask for

  • a Team Meeting, and
  • changes to your child's IEP.


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