At the conclusion of an initial or annual IEP review, after everyone has shared information about the student and developed the best IEP plan for the student's success, everyone breathes a sigh of relief. The "save" button on the computer IEP program is pressed, and voila! The educational goals become active.

These active goals become the crux for the student's special education instruction. The data collection for the goals begins almost simultaneously, as the data collection is evidence for how well the student is progressing toward meeting the educational goals.

Teachers often choose to collect evidence for goal progress independent of students. However, including students in a partnership relationship will strengthen a student's understanding of his own learning abilities and provide a greater understanding of his own IEP plan. As teacher-student collaboration is at work, the student strengthens his self-determination skills by involvement in learner voice opportunities.

Self-determination has been identified as a lifelong skill that has caused adults with learning disabilities to be successful. Bremer, Kachgal and Schoeller noted in 2003 that becoming self-determined provides opportunities for students to make their own meaningful decisions about life. The ability to problem-solve to collect evidence as proof for meeting a goal teaches a student how to think about learning.

One way that teachers can instruct students in self-determination skills is by employing student voice to encourage self-evaluation of a student's own performance toward his IEP goals. Student voice is when a student speaks for himself about his needs, his wants and what he prefers. It is self-advocacy.

Student voice is embedded in descriptive feedback, a technique that student-teacher collaboration teams can use to evaluate data artifacts and learning behavior. Descriptive feedback is described as "a reflective conversation between teacher and students wherein students describe their experiences as learners, with the goals of improving learning." It is comprised of experiences for a teacher to know a student in a deeper manner and for a student to learn to practice speaking about his education using descriptive words.

A student could describe his IEP goals and how he worked to meet those using artifacts or data. The teacher could then descriptively reflect back to the student her observations of the same artifacts or data. This descriptive feedback can be recorded in a written fashion into a journal and be used as evidence of learning or it can be recorded digitally and saved into a digital file to review at a later time.

The student can participate in collecting authentic data by gathering his own work sample artifacts that have been identified — with teacher assistance into a portfolio, binder or file folder. Examples of authentic data are student writing pieces with rubrics completed by the student and teacher as an evaluation. Other examples are student math worksheets, tests or math journals explaining processes.

Reading journals, lists of books read, comprehension and fluency tests can all be placed into a file of artifacts as evidence toward meeting a goal. If students are measuring behavior in their goals, copies of behavior charts and teacher and student reflective notes can be artifacts.

IEP goals are typically reviewed quarterly and yearly. This affords constant opportunity for students and teachers to work together to gather evidence for goal progress, strengthening the IEP plan as the student becomes involved with his own learning, and encourage responsibility for understanding individual educational expectations.

The student is afforded a greater accountability to the plan put in place as he collects his artifacts and evaluates his progress with his teacher. This plan is meant to be a team effort. It works best when the student that the plan is designed for has the opportunity to include his fingerprint on the results.