How 504 Plans and Individual Education Plans (IEPs) Work

504 Plans and IEPs

A 504 plan is part of a civil rights law that was passed to protect people with disabilities. It makes sure there are accommodations and modifications provided for students with disabilities that need them in the classroom. 504 plans are used more for people with physical disabilities then learning disabilities. It might include making sure a student who needs a wheelchair has access to the places he/she needs to be in the school building. It can state that the teacher of a certain student needs to know how to use an inhaler as a medical accommodation when a nurse is not present to assist a student with a medical disability.

An IEP is an Individual Education Plan that students are entitled to under the "No Child Left Behind Act." It is a legal document that states what services the child needs to stay in a school setting and receive equitable learning accommodations. Some students are diagnosed with a disability when they come to school and it makes it easier to determine what the students modifications and accommodations will be. Others need to go through the process of determining that disability through diagnostic testing and a psychological evaluation and assessment.

Beginning the Process

The whole process begins when the regular education teacher notices that for example, a student in the first grade is having a difficult time keeping up with the rest of the class academically or maybe has tested low on a DRA (Direct Reading Assessment) or other reading assessment. The student may display inappropriate behavioral interactions in the classroom which would warrant an additional concern for testing and evaluation. At this point the teacher will share her concerns with the parents and the head of a school’s designated SIT (Student Intervention Team).

In our school we call this team SIT. It is comprised of people from all the departments in the school and meets once or twice a week. We have aides teachers, Occupational Therapists, nurses, reading and speech specialists and our principal who convene to discuss students who have been recommended by teachers or other staff members for 504 accommodations or Special Education services or placement. This diverse group of school leaders can come up with lots of strategies and ideas to help in the early stages of the process in determining whether a student receives a 504 plan or IEP (Individual Education Plan).

When the regular education teacher or other school member refers the student to the team, a meeting is set up and they are asked to bring the following items:

1 The Teacher Referral Form

2 The Students’ Accommodation Plan [if the student has one]

3 Students at Risk Indicator’s Checklist

4 Current DRA Level [reading assessment in our school]

5 Some Student Work Samples


We have a team leader that sits at all our team meetings. She knows all the laws and the steps the district has set up for the student’s evaluative process. The team leader makes sure things run quickly and efficiently. This really helps as there seems to be more and more students being referred for a SIT evaluation.

The teacher begins by presenting the student and showing us copies of her work and results from recent DRAs and other assessments. She shares some of the students strengths and social skills. We also talk about the family situation as that can have a big impact on how the child is behaving in the classroom.

This is where it is helpful to have such a diversified team. The OT(Occupational Therapist) might have some suggestions on things to help the student with sensory issues and the reading specialist might have seen a different student with same reading problem.

So we all suggest strategies to help the teacher help the student. Then we need diagnostic data to determine whether the strategies are helping or not. The teacher will call the parents to ask them to try similar strategies at home with the student. The date for the re-evaluation meeting is set up at this first meeting, in about two to three weeks to review additional data and diagnostic assessments.

Re-evaluation Meeting

The second meeting starts by reviewing the data sheets to see how the strategies worked. If things have not improved or have worsened, then the SIT members will suggest further testing and evaluation. These consist of rating scales for the teacher and parents [for comparison] to determine if there are any ADD or ADHD disabilities that are impacting the student’s learning in the classroom.

Sometimes the child’s pediatrician will also be asked to fill out an assessment. We will also want OT and speech scales data for the student. Sometimes if math seems to be a big challenge, the title 5 math tutor will be asked to test also.The classroom teacher will have to do another DRA to have a current reading comparison. At this meeting, sometimes the SIT members will refer the student to reading recovery or math tutoring so he/she doesn’t get too far behind in math skills. The SIT members will reconvene in another month with all of the testing results for a final determination for the student.

Individual Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan

If it is determined by the SIT team that the child needs assistance to better function academically and behaviorally in the classroom, then the student is referred to the Special Needs team lead by a director chosen by the district.

At this point the student will go through extensive testing and sometimes the parents may even choose to have the child tested outside the school.

When all the testing is done and the student’s skills are diagnosed, the district will write up an IEP and meet with the family and the teachers and specialists who will become a case management team for the student’s IEP or 504 plan. Both plans are gone over line by line by the team, parents and student to make sure everyone understands and agrees with the services and wording of services.

It is not an easy process to get students an IEP or 504 plan, but It really helps the student feel successful when they get the services they need when either plan is warranted to provided needed educational services and accountability.