504 Refers to Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act…a law passed into legislation in 1973. 504 Class Coding of students allowed for Students with Disabilities to be afforded accommodations, under the law, to enable access to learning. The Code specifies regulatory requirements for eligibility, and what are acceptable evaluations used to determine such eligibility.
A 504 Plan is not the same as an IEP. AN IEP is an Individualized Education Plan, which is created after an evaluation, and is typically used for Students who have been qualified to be developmentally disabled, and who have plans which give them what is known as Special Education. These students do not functionally learn well in traditional methods or manners but are educable and are afforded an assisted education under developmentally disabled programs. Education under such programs varies from state to state but honestly, the programs have come very far in just 25 years. Students with this class are allowed to attend public education programs until the age of 21. AND there are, in fact, colleges which have further education specifically designed for many developmentally disabled students to help create independent living skills! A student who is classed as such has opportunities to go to college and participate in the experience of gaining some critical decision making skills necessary to function independently in society, as well as participate in the college social experiences with great support and supervision.
However, there are numerous other learning disabilities and challenges which are not developmental disabilities but are, nevertheless, problematic to traditional learning. These students under Section 504, are also afforded accommodations to help assist in their learning. These students are qualified through evaluations to have issues which impair, significantly, the ability of the student to learn and participate in the classroom. Many students are granted accommodations for ADHD, Audio-processing disorders, Dysgraphia, and Academic Fluency delays. Many of the students diagnosed with such disorders are very intelligent but limited by their particular learning challenge in participating in the traditional manner at school. However with accommodations, afforded under the law, these students are able to achieve and sustain very efficient and effective levels of learning unobtainable to them without such support.
What is necessary in the evaluation and documentation? The evaluations, testing, as well as the accommodations granted for the student are captured on what is called the 504 Plan. This is well-documented and affords any college to simply respond to the requirements. Included in the documentation to receive any accommodations are seven points that must be clearly identified and easy for any person reading the 504 to discern.
- The diagnosis is clearly stated.
- Information is current.
- Educational, developmental, and medical history is presented.
- The diagnosis is supported.
- The functional limitation is described.
- Recommended accommodations are justified.
- Evaluators’ professional credentials are established.
Specific requirements for the actual evaluation testing requirements differ by disability. Some specific disabilities such as: ADHD, Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, Anxiety, Tourette’s, etc. have very different evaluations used for diagnosis, and therefore, the documentation supporting the 504 Plan will be dictated in part to the actual evaluation.
For a whole host of learning disabilities, there are some standard tests required as documentation for granting accommodations for extra-time in testing. These tests are given in the public school systems by the School Psychologists or Learning Skills Specialists. Most public schools at high school level have at least one School Psychologist on staff or more. Inquire in your own school should this be a concern. Testing typically must be current to apply for accommodations; most states require updates every 3 years until the age of 21.
I strongly urge all parents and students, who are classified as such, to redo the testing at the age of 21, should the student want to go onto graduate school. The most recent testing will determine accommodations. Testing can be very costly; a comprehensive battery of testing usually costs anywhere from $3000-$8000. So, I urge all to get the last afforded under the law through schools, which is age 21 for public schools.
Some tests that will be required to be included in the 504 Plans are:
1) Tests of Cognitive Ability -there are several, these include:
- Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale or Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children
- Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Cognitive Abilities
- Stanford Binet Intelligence Scales (when individually administered)
- Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children
- Differential Ability Scales
- Reynolds Intellectual Assessment Scales
2) Reading Ability Tests -also several options, which include:
- Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement (general and extended batteries that include fluency measures)Scholastic Abilities Test for Adults
- Wechsler Individual Achievement Test, with reading rate measure
- Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement
- Gates-MacGinitie Reading Tests (when individually administered)
There are also Math and Written achievement tests and other achievement tests, which can be used. Some of these tests are used to indicate Math and Written along with Reading and so forth. Many psychologists and learning skills educational specialists are trained in administering these tests. A good testing facility can help to determine both the most comprehensive and also the most expeditious testing necessary for a diagnoses. While performing testing, suggestions might be made to do additional testing; when applying for extended time due to ADHD or Academic Fluency (the speed with which the brain processes information), many schools and testing companies will require both timed and un-timed testing to compare. Most evaluative testing takes a day and a half or two days of time. This is typically done during the school day so, doing so will require make-up work missed while testing.
Finally, in addition to the testing results, which are necessary documentation for evaluation, are the medical reports and diagnosis of any disability, medications administered, and specific requests and suggestions for learning tools and aids the student will need to be fully supported. The 504 Plan will be created and added to by the School Psychologist or Counselor. Typically there are 504 meetings between parents, school counselor and/ or psychologist, school principle, and/or learning skills specialist. The accommodations necessary are outlined in writing in the plan. The clarity and specificity of the documentation of the 504 Plan will aid in the college process, significantly!
If you have or are a student with a 504 Plan, please be sure to read it thoroughly as you start the college process. Any discrepancies or omissions to what support you actually receive or not, as is notated in the 504 Plan, should be corrected or amended. Parents really should carefully follow the student’s path through school because often the accommodations, assists and aids outlined get derailed or sidestepped during the high school years…..many times due to the adolescent student just feeling the help is unnecessary anymore or from a desire to add more social or extra-curricular activities that compete for time. I caution all those who have these ideas that they are doing fine and that the assistance is too much to stick to the 504 Plan until re-evaluation. These are accommodations and supports afforded under the law! The Plan is a tool giving the student the supports which can help, regardless of how skilled the student has been at compensating.