Which is more appropriate for students with dyslexia: an IEP or 504 Plan?
For those students who are identified or diagnosed with dyslexia, both Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 Plans can offer formal help from schools.
The IEP comes under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, IDEA, a federal special education law for students with disabilities. An IEP can provide the specially designed instruction needed for students who are behind in academic areas, including reading and spelling. This instruction is ‘specially designed,’ or individualized, based upon a combination of a student’s unique needs, test results, and learning profile. Students with dyslexia who are behind in reading and spelling need high quality, evidence-based structured language instruction of sufficient intensity (meaning more than average instructional time) to catch up to grade level and close the gap. They also need accommodations, modifications and supports to bridge the gap between their literacy abilities and grade level requirements. An IEP also provides these needed accommodations such as Assistive Technology, read aloud, dictation to scribe or speech to text, and extended time for those whose testing shows a need for these services and accommodations.
The 504 Plan comes under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act which provides needed accommodations to guarantee equal access for all persons with handicapping conditions, in schools and in all other settings. The 504 Plan provides only accommodations, so it is often best used for students with dyslexia who only need accommodations or have successfully completed remediation plans and are able to decode and encode reasonably well. While they are decoding and spelling approximately at grade level, they often struggle with fluency in both reading and writing, needing extended time or other accommodations. The 504 Plan provides accommodations such as Assistive Technology options for read aloud, spelling checks, speech to text, dictation to scribe, extended time, and others.
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Office of Special Education Programs, 39th Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 2017, Washington, D.C.
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Guidance, October, 2015. Washington, D.C.
Susan Lowell is an Adjunct Professor in the graduate school at Bay Path University, a private practice clinician in Connecticut, and a former Fulbright Senior Specialist.