Individualized Education Plans (IEP) and 504 Education Plans

Students with additional needs might be eligible for an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP. An IEP is offered, free of charge, to students in public schools and outlines the goals and any support services that may be needed for a student to succeed in mainstream education.

In this section:

IEP Goals

504 Education plans

IEP versus 504

Assistive technology and IEPs/504s

IEP Goals

The IEP creates an opportunity for teachers, parents, school administrators, related services personnel, and students (when appropriate) to work together to improve educational results for children with disabilities. The IEP is the key to quality education for each child with a disability. IEP goals and objectives can be set and measured accordingly.

What should an IEP goal include?

A student’ IEP goals are set annually and address the skills that need support. Effective IEP goals are strengths-based and SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, results-oriented, and time-bound.

Goals look at big steps. They set out what your child is expected to learn during the year.

For example, Your child is six years old and knows the names of a few objects. An annual goal for them could be to correctly name 60 new objects.

Objectives (or benchmarks) are smaller steps. They break the annual goal down into smaller pieces.

For example, your child has the goal of naming 60 new objects. This goal may be broken down into several objectives such as:

  • By December 31, they will name 20 new objects in their environment.
  • By March 15, they will name 20 additional new objects in their environment.
  • By June 15, they will name 20 additional objects in their environment.

By meeting the short term objectives or benchmarks your child will smash their annual goal.

What is a 504 education plan?

A 504 education plan comes from Section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It’s designed to help parents of students with physical or mental impairments work with educators to design customized educational plans.

These plans support our students with disabilities and remove barriers to learning. The goal is to give the student equal access at school. These plans prevent discrimination. And they protect the rights of students with disabilities in school.

What does a 504 plan include?

Students can qualify for 504 plans if they have physical or mental impairments that affect or limit their abilities to:

  1. walk, breathe, eat, or sleep
  2. communicate, see, hear, or speak
  3. read, concentrate, think, or learn
  4. stand, bend, lift, or work

Students with disabilities have the right to access reasonable accommodations to give them equal access to learning and other school activities. For educators, this doesn’t mean a completely different learning program, it simply means that when we’re designing our lessons that we make sure they’re accessible to every student in the class. A student’s 504 plan might include:


A change in our classroom to how our student accesses and learns the course content. Examples: Seating arrangements Extra time for tests Excused lateness Adjusted class schedules

Assistive technology

Tools that help students work around their barriers to traditional learning. Examples: Laptops Graphic organizers Touchscreens Text-to-Speech software Dictaphones

School services

Services to help students access general education and the education setting. Examples: Transportation Speech therapy Physiotherapy

The goal of 504 plans is for students to be educated in regular classrooms along with the services, accommodations, or educational aids they might need. If students with these plans can't achieve satisfactory academic success, as is determined by the school, then alternative settings in the school or private or residential programs can be considered.

IEP versus 504

The main difference between a 504 plan and an IEP is that a 504 plan can transfer to college education, a IEP can’t. There’s also a difference in how each plan describes disability. A 504 plan stipulates that a disability significantly impacts major life function. Whereas IEP criteria includes disability that significantly affects educational performance. For example, disabilities covered by a 504 plan might include hearing impairments or impairments that affect movement. Whereas students who have dyslexia or ASD would fall under an IEP. IEPs are governed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). You can learn more about what is covered under IDEA by visiting the Government website.

Assistive technology and IEPs/504s

The term "assistive technology" or "AT" may never appear on the IEP/504 forms used by your school. Instead the form may use terms such as "accommodations, supports, program modifications or supplementary aids and services." No matter what form is used by the IEP/504 team in your school, the law requires that the assistive technology needs of the child must be considered.

However, it's important to note that unlike IEPs under 504 plans, schools aren't responsible for recommending, purchasing or training students to use AT. They must be willing to consider it as an accommodation though.

It’s important to keep in mind that AT’s role is to assist a student’s learning. It doesn’t replace good teaching, but it can be used in addition to well-designed instruction. AT has been proven to help students with their self-confidence, and independent study. It’s also been shown to help students to:

  1. Work more quickly and more accurately
  2. Navigate classroom routines
  3. Organize their schedules
  4. Work on areas of weakness. For example, a student has reading issues but has good listening skills, text-to-speech tools might be useful.

You can read more about choosing the right tools for your child on our dedicated page.

How can parents and caregivers participate in a student’s IEP?

If students in your class or at your school may be eligible for an IEP, parents and caregivers should play an important role. Here's some helpful tips you can pass on.

Attend meetings

In fact, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act , the federal law governing special education, lists parents first on the list of required members of a student’s IEP team.

Decide on where and how the student will be taught

Parents and caregivers play an important role in decisions about where and how students will be taught. This is referred to as “placement.” This term covers not only which classroom or school your child is placed in, but also which services will be included in the IEP. Services can include things like one-on-one sessions with specialists.

Help the school team assess students’ skills

IEPs are based on something called “the present level of academic achievement and functional performance” (known as PLAAFP, PLP, or PLOP ). This means they need to know how a student is doing now so they can measure future progress. Parents or caregivers’ input about how the student functions at home is valuable to PLOP. Observations from the home environment help the IEP team figure out weaknesses, strengths, and level of academic skills.

Setting goals and objectives

The IEP team set measurable annual goals for students. A parent’s input can help define and refine goals so they’re realistic but still ambitious. Annual goals give students and their teachers something concrete to work toward. It’s also a good way of adding some accountability for the school in addressing the needs of the student.

Keeping an eye on services and supports

Students should receive supports and services that are tailored to specific needs. But it’s easy for a busy special education department to apply a “standard” set of supports and services to all students with a certain disability. A parent’s role here is to make sure the IEP is designed with the individual student in mind.

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