Special Education Dashboards

Research • Data • Interface Design


A key problem in education is that there is a wealth of data but little time to make sense of it. Some have described this as being “data rich, information poor”. In 2020, Frontline had committed to a company-wide initiative aimed at leveraging the wealth of data available across the Frontline platform. Part of this vision was to bring actionable insights in the form of a dashboard to each of the platform’s solution groups. I was tasked to work with Special Education and Interventions. Since dashboards are simply a way of presenting data and information, we had to step back to determine what problems a dashboard could solve and how those problems would change based on the persona (e.g. directors, district admins, building admins, teachers) for different programs (e.g. Special Education, Section 504, and RTI / MTSS).

My Roll

I collaborated closely with the Special Education and Interventions group’s product manager. The project had several challenges:

Conflicting demands of the company long term initiative versus the Special Education group’s immediate need to increase value and enhance user experience. As part of an overall strategy, more sections of individual solution groups (ie. dashboards) were to become part of the platform code. This meant we would need to work within the limitations of the very slow-moving platform initiative. After much back and forth from management, it was decided that SEI’s dashes would be built within the SE& application itself.

Solving for so many personas proved in the end to be impractical. The initial strategy was to construct a dashboard that was customizable. Though this is a common industry-wide approach, implementing so many widgets wasn’t feasible for the time frame we had.

Being a dashboard meant high visibility and many opinions. Many stakeholders on the SE& I team had decades of experience. This meant I had assess to well-seasoned experts in the field—unfortunately many of whom had conflicting ideas as to what should be included on the dashboard.



  • Allow users to monitor across various levels of the organization. “How is my district/school doing? And how am I doing?”
  • To present compliance data that is relevant (to the persona/user type.) “What do I need to know and what do I need to do?”
  • Provide additional functionality that supports the special ed process of a given persona. “I want additional widgets that give me alerts/data concerning the specific responsibilities that I have.”


Much of the initial research was conducted by looking at a myriad of dashboards. This research also included a careful review of case studies presented in The Big Book of Dashboards by Steve Wexler, Jeffrey Shaffer and Andy Cotgreave. The team also relied on interviews as well as feedback from internal stakeholders. In addition, an advisory board of 8 clients was regularly consulted and shown mockups as the work continued. From all this came sketches of various widgets and a solidifying of our thinking.

Four personas for the dash boards were identified: buyerspecial ed directorschool administrator, and case manager. Our research centered on when coming into the system: a. What did each persona need to know?  b. And what did they need to act on? As the project progressed, these personas became the basis for 4 corresponding dashboard types. Buyer aligning with the “Trends” dashboard, special ed director with “Planning,” school administrator with “My Supervision,” and case manager with “My Assignments.”

This approach afforded more flexibility and was especially useful considering that many of our user’s spanned different personas/user types: ie. it is possible in a small school that an administrator also has duties as a case manager (and/or provider.) Thus a tabular system was applied and based on permissions.

Design Sprint

Taking the research, personas, and competitive analysis, we followed Google’s 5-day design sprint. The high visibility of the dashboards meant the team that participated in the design sprint included top-ranking company executives including the company president.

With Such Great Input Came Great Output

Scores of widgets to address multiple data types for each persona were proposed, created, and reviewed. As the work progressed the team began to reach some conclusions:

  • It became obvious that our scope was too large.
  • That such a complicated system won’t scale well
  • With the descoping came a refocusing on the most critical aspects of the special education process: Initial Evaluations/IEPs, Annual Reviews, and Reevaluations. 

Scaling via Interactive Reports

Dashboards were configured to show that data at the level in which a user has permissions. This means that a district administrator, by default, sees an aggregate of the data for his or her district. Where a School administrator would see data for his or her school and finally a case manager would be able to see data at their level. The user could then “View More” for any of the widgets get to a report level for that particular category. Once in the specific category, the user would see data parsed out by any subcategories: ie. Building and/or case manager. A focus on heart of the Special Ed process: Initial Evaluations/IEPs, Annual Reviews, and Reevaluations. Once permission to evaluate is sent to the child’s guardian/parent, a federally mandated time line is initiated—one that will govern a predetermined series of events that will continue till the child no longer qualifies or he/she leaves school.

Urgency and Driving to Action

This new approach allowed us to shift the focus of the dashboard to “urgency.” That the dashboard could be used for not only viewing statuses but to drive to actions. This was done by enabling the user to “drill down” to the “card” level. Each card represented a task associated with a particular student


Conclusion: Less is More

Since the time this project concluded, in 2020, I have reflected on what makes a dashboard effective. There was a conflict that arose early in the process between those personas that would use those dashboards for insights: “What is this data telling me?” versus tactic concerns: “What do I need to know? And what do I need to do?” In the end, we mainly sided with the tactical. In a compromise, we added a summary panel at the top that allowed users to be able to answer the most basic question: “How am I/we doing?” This allowed a buyer or supervisor the ability to know the “compliance health” of their district or school. Additionally, the ability to “dig” to lower levels gives these personas the ability to investigate and discover issues at either the building, case manager, or task level. As a bonus, the dashboard adds efficiency. No longer do case managers need to navigate to separate places in the app to complete a task. They now take action from one location. 

The dashboards give us tremendous visibility into what our case managers are doing. We were able to uncover ways that many of our staff weren’t in compliance.

—Special Education Director

Peter Sawchuk
Aligning all aspects of UX

Correspondence to

16007 Normal Road
Jamaica, New York 11432



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