DivMi

Minimizing error, improving follow through, increasing job satisfaction

Context

An extension of the Student Services Management system (SSM) for Chicago Public Schools:


We’ve all heard about the teacher shortages nationwide, and how the public school system seems like a hopeless puzzle without the proper funding. After 10 years in the field, I can confirm it is a broke-post-apocalyptic fever dream. The sub-field of special education, the programs meant to support students with disabilities and specialized needs, should protect and ensure equity for vulnerable student populations. Unfortunately, with huge vacancies, a high turnover rate among special education staff, (which has remained relatively stable at around 25% over the past 20 years [Vanderbilt]), and limiting funding, it rarely does the job it's meant to with integrity.

Student Services Management (SSM) is the basic database where all special education and diverse learner related documentation is stored and managed for Chicago Publics Schools. These are legal documents and processes that dictate student services that schools are bound to provide and monitor.

There may be endless flow of new tools from EdTeach on teaching and instruction, but special education compliance and implementation remains outmoded. Many fields utilize organizational products such as Monday.com, Teamwork, Wrike, CareCloud, RXNT,  VComply, MedTrainer, etc. to maintain fidelity to their vision. No such tool compares for Special Education.

I decided to see my due-process tears as an opportunity to develop my dream software additions to our district's current compliance software. Though the challenges are overwhelming, there are opportunities to improve the quality of special education roles and therefore increase the quality of the student services through simple changes.

Competitor Analysis

Direct competitors advertised some from of special education records keep - options were few and basic. Indirect competitors included mostly medical case management programs. Below are features that are included in the most highly reviewed products that are, notably, missing from the Chicago Public School system:

● Caseload Automation
● Communication Tools
● Customization and Configurability
● Reminders and Notifications
● Workflow Automation

User Interviews

I interviewed 22 special education teachers, case managers, and experts to identify where problems stemmed that prevented staff from reaching 100% monthly special education compliance. 

Interview scripts focused on collecting qualitative data on special education position challenges and barriers to compliance as well as feedback on current Student Services Management (SSM).

“SSM is trash. I hate using the program and I'm often confused. I never had anyone teach me, and that created huge anxiety for me. I was only a case manager a year before I quit."

Clarance, Teacher
“We need something that reduces the actually anxiety behind the tasks and the worry of missing the small details, the peculiarities. Perfection is the baseline, and living with the pressure increases my stress related task avoidance."

Maranda, Teacher and Case Manager
"In special ed, you have to understand that everything is extremely time sensitive. Timelines have to be followed exactly, otherwise some processes are voided, or need to be completely redone, or are grounds for legal action."

Ozla, Case Manager
"If we can minimize risk, we can reduce anxiety and improve follow through."
"Quality gets put to the side when I’m struggling to get the bare minimum done. It gets really overwhelming. I've definitely seriously thought about changing careers ”

Cheryl, Teacher
“Compliance paperwork should really be a machine that runs itself [that we can make] small tweaks to based on special circumstance in this day and age. It's still really like we’re doing it with paper and pencil like they were 20 years ago, just digitally.”

Sam, Case Manager
“I want to automate the basics so that I can spend time on my special cases, especially the complex cases.”

Raquel, Case Manager
Indecision
Uncertainty and lack of knowledge on the complex procedural task flow leading to task avoidance issues
Forgetfulness
Lack of organization and clear system management leading to missed deadlines
Tedium
Lack of motivation and reluctance to spend precious time on repetitive, manual processes
Turnover
Constant turnover that leaves projects/processes undocumented and incomplete and increase liability

SME Insights

Interview data reiterated that timeline responsiveness remains the biggest challenge. The current SSM system is a simple data base. There is no tool that reflects the timelines and due dates of documented process, although procedural legislation has remained constant for decades, and no tool that allows for mass organization of cases.

This complex collection of data and documentation becomes itself a  confusing mess and an obstacle to compliance with multiple data reports required to pull simple information.

Each student cases requires layers of teamwork from service providers. Below is a visual snapshot of just one "intake" process for student:

Opportunities

From survey data and observations, I narrowed down four specific areas to focus my attention and create tools

Dashboard

Dashboard that allows quick viewing, sorting, filtering for all school cases

Task Flow

ODLSS Compliance timelines responsiveness, and automated task lists with justifications and
resources

Connections

Tools that cut out the extra steps and error risks with invitations and reminders through Google Meet and Gmail

Sketches & User Flow

I began with brainstorming and sketching of features, decidedly using a desktop model as a majority of current staff reported a lack of cell phone use during school hours.  

Wire Frames & Testing

I created wire frames and information flow layout the where tools would be seen and accessible to user with clarity  

Prototypes

AFTER
1. On the Home page, Task list is displayed according to compliance timelines. Tasks are organized by weekly completion target. Incomplete tasks from previous weeks are also listed as needed, also according to compliance timelines. Tasks are clickable and lead to student profile.

2. Quick Search student names and IDs remain

3. Monthly compliance metrics listed for progress and quick access

4. New "Dashboard Icon" added to Nav Bar

5. Icon added for quick access to customize timelines according to compliance needs (expanded below)

1. Progress in procedures easily identified (green = complete, grey = incomplete)

2. "Dashboard" drop down included (other options expanded below)

3. Filters for each metric and category available for easy use and access (Eligibility categories seen in example)

4. Task list expanded or hidden (currently hidded). See below for exapnaed
1. The task list can be expanded and viewed while on the dashboard page.

2. Dashboard still selected

1. "Timelines" dropdown selected brings user to

2. Days for compliance process notification is customizable as different case managers have their personal preferences

3. Default days are listed for comparison

4. Procedural Manuals with legal timelines and process details are listed for direct reference and justification