Beyond RTI2 – Considering 504 & IEP

Okay, so you are starting to understand RTI2 after visiting our RTI2 and Dyslexia Screening in Tennessee, but I’m sure you still want to know about the evaluation for Specific Learning Disability (SLD) (dyslexia falls under the SLD umbrella) and about more supports like 504 plans and Individualized Education Plans (IEPS).  We will try to answer those questions here.

Before we go further, here is an excellent chart developed by showing the difference in an IEP and a 504. We find it most helpful.

Section 504

If you looked over the chart from, you’ll see the basic definition of a 504  Plan is to provide “a blueprint or plan for how a child will have access to learning at school.” It “provides services and changes to the learning environment to meet the needs of the child as adequately as other students.”

A dyslexic student with a 504 Plan may need certain classroom/testing accommodations (extra time, read aloud) and/or assistive technology (writing software, audiobooks) in order to access general ed curriculum. (Here is a great list of common accommodations for children with dyslexia: Classroom Accommodations.)

To qualify for a 504 plan, first you need to show that your child has a Specific Learning Disability, which dyslexia is. Next, you need to show that his/her dyslexia  “substantially limits him/her in performing one or more major life activity.”

A 504 plan does not offer your child as many legal protections as an IEP, so many parents choose to go after a 504 if they suspect their child may not qualify for an IEP. According to’s link above, “Section 504 has a broader definition of a disability than IDEA. That’s why a child who doesn’t qualify for an IEP might still be able to get a 504 plan.”

For many students identified with Characteristics of Dyslexia, it is a great option to get dyslexia-specific intervention through the tiers of RTI2 and to get accommodations from a  504 plan. This can be a very successful route for many students now that the Dyslexia law is in place.

IEP / Individualized Education Plan

For some students with severe dyslexia, an IEP will be the best route. However, it is very important to understand that a diagnosis of dyslexia alone, does not qualify a child for  an IEP. According to Federal educational law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,  it’s a two step process:

1) A student must have a qualifying diagnosis (dyslexia is under SLD)


2) The disability must adversely impact the child’s ability to access general education.

An IEP will allow for specialized instruction, usually with a special education teacher, as well as classroom accommodations and assistive technology, etc. It’s just what it says, an individualized plan for education.

How do you qualify?

In Tennessee, before a child is referred for special education for reading, the data must indicate that Tier 3 instruction in RTI2 is ineffective. This is now must be PART of the referral process, but it, by itself, is not the FULL evaluation. The process is complex and well outline in the Tennessee Response to Instruction and Intervention Framework and the Dyslexia Guide. It is important to understand the RTI2 process in order to understand the IEP evaluation process.  If you have not already, please review our RTI2 and Dyslexia Screening in Tennessee page.

The most important part to understand for the purposes of qualifying for an IEP is that when a child is in RTI Tier II or Tier III, that child will be progress monitored (tests to make sure the child is making adequate progress) either weekly or every 2 weeks.

In order to qualify for an IEP, the IEP team (which consists of parents, teachers, and administrators) will need to complete the Specific Learning Disability Assessment Documentation Form. According to this form, a student suspected of a disability must complete 10-15 data points (in other words 10-15 WEEKS) in Tier II and then an additional 10-15 data point (yes, thats another 10-15 WEEKS) in Tier III in order to qualify for Special Education. All told, if your child is at the beginning of the RTI Tier process, it can take 30 weeks of “data gathering” to become eligible for an IEP. At least this is what the vast majority of schools will tell you. That is a very long time to wait for those students with severe dyslexia who need intense interventions.




Moreover, the Federal Government sent an enforcement letter specifically to Screen Shot 2018-03-26 at 3.24.16 PMTennessee on July 22, 2015 reminding Tennessee that it  CANNOT use RTI2 to delay or deny an evaluation for eligibility under IDEA.  A Decoding Dyslexia – TN parent called to the attention of OSEP that Tennessee was violating OSEP Letter 11-07 and so OSEP sent a letter just to Tennessee to make sure that the state did not continue to violate the law. The State of Tennessee is quoted in this letter as saying a student does NOT have to complete all 3 RTI2 tiers prior to referral for special education for a specific learning disability (dyslexia is one). Please take this letter  to your school meetings and understand that state RTI2 policy cannot trump federal law.

Screen Shot 2018-03-21 at 6.10.32 PM.pngALSO VERY IMPORTANT – Schools are NOT required to wait for all 20-30 data points before referring a student for an IEP. It is not a hard and fast check-the-box rule. IEP teams have the power to refer students for an IEP if the team agrees that the student meets qualifies.  This is not well known in Tennessee, but our Dyslexia Advisory Council address this very issue in its most recent meeting. You can watch the first 40 minutes here to see a discussion of this issue.

Another important point: In an Education Guidance Letter dated October 23, 2015 from the Federal Office of Special Education Programs  – states CAN AND SHOULD use the term Screen Shot 2018-03-26 at 3.29.01 PMdyslexia in an IEP. Excerpt: “There is nothing in the IDEA or our implementing regulations that prohibits the inclusion of the condition that is the basis for the child’s disability determination in the child’s IEP. In addition, the IEP must address the child’s needs resulting from the child’s disability to enable the child to advance appropriately towards attaining his or her annual IEP goals and to enable the child to be involved in, and make progress in, the general education curriculum. 34 CFR §§300.320(a)(1 ), (2), and (4). Therefore, if a child’s dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia is the condition that forms the basis for the detem1ination that a child has a specific learning disability, OSERS believes that there could be situations where an IEP Team could determine that personnel responsible for IEP implementation would need to know about the condition underlying the child’s disability (e.g., that a child has a weakness in decoding skills as a result of the child’s dyslexia).” This is another letter that is important to print out and bring to school meetings. 

We know this is REALLY complicated and we are here to help!
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