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The Differences Between an IEP, a 504 Plan and Title 1

written by: Victoria Trix • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 6/6/2012

This brief overview will help parents understand the differences between three common terms often referenced in special education, and what they mean for students. By understanding the lingo, you can be proactive in your child's educational planning.

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    If you have a child who requires special education, it is absolutely vital that you understand the difference between IEPs, Title 1, and 504s.These are commonly referenced and utilized academic tools. Different laws administer them and different government offices mandate them. Understanding each is imperative so that you can be an effective advocate for your child.

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    Title 1 Falls Under the No Child Left Behind Act

    Most of us are familiar with the No Child Left Behind Act, which was put into place in 2001. Title 1 falls under that act. It is a collection of federal laws which are designed to improve the achievement and education received by children who are part of the public education system. In short, these laws allow schools to qualify for extra funding for the programs under Title 1. In return, the schools are accountable for making sure that its students improve in the areas which received funding.

    Conversely, neither the 504 plans nor the IEP plans fall under the laws which are a part of No Child Left Behind. Rather, they have been around since the 1970s, when certain congressional acts were put into place.

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    The 504 Plan

    The 504 refers specifically to the Rehabilitation Act's 504th section. Congress passed this Act in the early 1970s. It is designed to protect the civil rights of people who have disabilities. Specifically, it states that an individual who has a disability has to be able to participate equally in any program which receives federal funding. Thus, public schools have a legal obligation to make sure that this happens.

    Notably however, 504 plans promote only equal access. That means that educational progress does not necessarily have to be made. So, a child with a disability is allowed the same accommodations, and the same access to educational opportunities as a child who does not have disabilities. However, having a 504 in place does not require the school to ensure that he or she progress academically.

    It is also important to note that the Department of Special Education does not administer either Title 1 programs or 504 plans. Rather, the General Education Department does.

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    IEPs Help Give Each Child a Tailored Education

    IEPs are also known as Individual Education Plans. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which was passed in 1975 covers the implentation of and adherence to IEPs.This collection of federal laws is designed to make sure that any eligible student, no matter their disabilities, receives a a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in their state of residence.

    In short, school districts are required to give each eligible student a proper, individually tailored education. They must do so under any means necessary. Unlike the 504, this is not just about equal access, and furthermore, funding has nothing to do with this, as it does with Title 1.

    Each eligible student must be appropriately taught whether there is funding or not. IEPs also differ from 504s because the schools have to prove that eligible students have made academic progress. These plans are governed by the Department of Special Education.

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    The Best Plan for Your Child

    Neither plan is superior to the other. It depends on each individual child's needs. That is why it is so important to understand the differences.

    A 504 plan is ideal for your child if he or she can make progress simply with some special accommodations put in place. However, if your child needs a more structured environment and a specialized learning plan, then putting an IEP plan in place is probably your best option.

    You should try to figure out which will be best for your child as soon as possible, so that he or she does not get behind academically, and then work with your school's special education team to ensure the right plan and the right modifications are implemented to ensure continued academic growth and progress.