Friday, September 26, 2008

The 504 Plan: An Under-used Tool in Accommodating Learners?

Is the 504 under-used? Should we give ALL students access to the tools that would be given to accommodate students on a 504 plan? If we did, wouldn't we be covering the needs of everyone?
I was researching these questions and reading up on the implementation of a 504 Plan under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. I know that it gives "legal teeth" to folks that need to advocate for equal access and fight discrimination. That is a good thing and I don't want to sound like this post is advising that we should not use a 504 plan. I just see that there are tools we would use on a 504 that maybe should be considered standard support for anyone. But first, let's look a minute at the 504:
I found a good advocacy resource site, Special Education They have a nice glossary of descriptions that relate to special ed and advocacy. These descriptions are a real help to parents that are new to this whole area and need to find some answers. They shared that the 504 is often an under-used tool in the education arena. "The 504 protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination from policies or a lack of equipment from recipients of federal funding". Maybe schools and parents don't take advantage of the power in this tool - instead they either do nothing or go for broke with testing and working on an IEP?
The site's description of 5o4 meetings brought out that the end-result of an effective 504 plan should be equal access for academic success and student achievement in a course of study - not a focus on a disability and why it prevents success. The plan should be developed to encompass not only modifications and accommodations for the curriculum and equal access to the course materials, but also equal access to evaluations, test and assessments of student mastery of content.
The 504 is intended to provide access for those with a disability in the general education setting rather than in special education and an IEP. For those that are unclear (and in my research online I find many professionals and parents alike that are unsure of the actual "legalese") I have a good definition from LD Online - a great resource too by the way...

"A 504 plan is a legal document that outlines a plan of instructional services for students in the general education setting. Students with ADHD often have a 504 plan. While not an IEP, the document usually describes the types of accommodations that will be made for a student in school."

These accomodations can include providing extra support through readers, interpreters or assistive technology such as text to speech tools, special word processing support tools, etc.

If you are a parent sensing that your child has more going on than meets the eye as far as their lack of ability to succeed at school, you might want to explore the 504 as a tool. My thought as to why it is under-used is that possibly it is not commonly presented as an option to parents for fear of over-use. I can hear administrators asking: "What if every parent that thinks their child isn't doing well at school wanted a 504 plan written out and followed? Yikes! What would we do?"

Here is my question: "With all the federal mandates and accountability pieces for average yearly progress staring us in the face and the threat of dropping student achievement, why wouldn't we WANT to identify those with disabilities and accommodate them so they can be successful? "

And then here's another concept:
As well as accommodating special needs for IEP's, special education and 504's, why don't we provide ALL students with the tools they need to succeed, teach them how to use them to self-accommodate, and then no student needs to stick out and be embarassed and we can see the legal mandates for 504's from the Rehab Act and IDEA met in one full swoop. Seems like a lot easier road to me. Maybe I am over-simplifying it.

For a list of links for tools that can support learning for ALL students - and could be a strong support for students on a 504 plan, see my post here.

All the best to you!



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1 comment:

Rebecca Rosenburg said...

Thanks- my daughter's school just suggested a 504 plan and I found this when doing research.