Initiating a Section 504 Evaluation

Referrals for a Section 504 evaluation can be initiated by parents or school personnel and may be based on the student’s response to intervention in a multi-tiered system of supports. In most circumstances, a request for evaluation from the parent or a referral resulting from observation by a classroom teacher triggers the obligation to evaluate a student for problems related to a suspected disability. If the school suspects that the student might be eligible for exceptional student education (ESE) services under IDEA, then an evaluation that meets the IDEA requirements should be conducted. However, there may be students for whom a disability and need for accommodations and supports is suspected that may result in the need to consider whether the student is disabled under Section 504. Examples may include the following:

  • Parent or teacher request based on suspicion of a disability;
  • Documentation of a physical or mental impairment (e.g., medical diagnosis);
  • A known chronic health condition;
  • Persistent academic, learning, or behavioral problems;
  • Behaviors that result in suspension or expulsion when appropriate behavior management approaches have been ineffective;
  • Failure to demonstrate sufficient improvement with evidence-based interventions that are implemented with fidelity;
  • Student is evaluated but not eligible for a disability under IDEA (i.e., the student is not sufficiently disabled to meet eligibility criteria or is not in need of ESE services).

Even though 34 CFR §104.36 does not contain a requirement for obtaining parental consent for an evaluation to determine the existence of a disability under Section 504, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has interpreted Section 504 to require districts to obtain parental consent for initial evaluation (Letter to Durheim, 27 IDELR 380 (OCR 1997)).

If upon receipt of a parental request for a Section 504 evaluation, the team determines that an evaluation is not required, they must indicate a refusal to evaluate and provide parents with their procedural safeguards (34 CFR §104.36).


Evaluation and disability determinations are made by the Section 504 team, which consists of a group knowledgeable about the student, the meaning of evaluation data, and the placement options (34 CFR §104.35(c).

An evaluation under Section 504 is not a full and individual evaluation as required under IDEA. Data used for the evaluation and determination of a disability and required accommodations can be broad and may include, but is not limited to, medical records, school records, standardized test results, classroom observations, and anecdotal records. Section 504 evaluations may encompass record and work sample reviews; direct observation in the natural setting; interviews with the student, parent, and school personnel; and/or administration of more formal assessment measures. If formal tests and other evaluation procedures are used, they must meet the following criteria (34 CFR §104.35(b)):
  • Have been validated for the specific purpose for which they are used and are administered by trained personnel.
  • Be tailored to assess specific areas of educational need and not merely those designed to provide a single intelligence quotient.
  • Accurately reflect aptitude or achievement or whatever else the tests purport to measure rather than reflect the student’s impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills (unless the test is designed to measure these particular factors).

The evaluation should provide the team information about: 1) the physical or mental impairment at issue, 2) the major life activity or bodily function impacted by the impairment, and 3) the degree to which the impairment substantially limits the major life activity (or activities). This information is critical to the determination of whether the student has a qualifying disability and whether the student needs a Section 504 plan in order to have his/her educational needs met as adequately as those of nondisabled peers.

Section 504 regulations do not specify the time period within which an evaluation must be conducted. Typically, OCR and courts will use a “reasonable amount of time” standard. Absent specific guidelines, and given that Section 504 does not require a full and individual evaluation it would be prudent (though not required) to apply IDEA timelines when conducting Section 504 evaluations.

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MYTH: Section 504 requires comprehensive, formal evaluations to determine whether a student is disabled.

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