Summer Learning Loss, particularly in mathematics, is a well-documented phenomenon. Research of seasonal patterns in student learning shows that achievement gaps in mathematics between students from high- and low-income groups grow while children are out of school. Middle to high socioeconomic student groups make learning gains over summer recess, while low socioeconomic student groups lose on average one-third of a grade level of skill knowledge.

During this pandemic, students from lower socio-economic groups will be the ones whose academic achievement will be most hurt. The opportunity gap providing equivalent access to technology tools, broadband access and in-home support for instruction will equate to an even greater disparity thus supporting the continued threat to systemic generational poverty. Education leaders estimate that two academic school years will be needed to make up the learning loss from this extended summer recess, particularly for low socioeconomic student groups.

How to Cope with A Loss We Can’t Afford

In response to school closures, there has been a boom in the advertising of remote learning resources. But the sheer volume of resources is overwhelming to both parents and teachers. Structure, pacing, and guidance are the foundation to the successful implementation of any learning platforms and resources to ensure that students can learn effectively.

To this end, a coalition of EdTech platforms, educational content creators and professional development organizations have come together to help revitalize the development of math skills this school year with the U.S. Challenge. The U.S. Challenge is a free 12-week online gamified program that paces 1st-8th grade students through the common-core standards math skills development from May to August.

The goal of the U.S. Challenge is to boost student math achievement in low socioeconomic groups one-half to three-fourths of a grade level as predicted by research and prior results using the Polyup platform. To maximize accessibility and connectivity, this program will be optimized for any web browser and for mobile devices. Additionally, students and classrooms that participate in the challenge will be eligible for different prizes with education-themed winnings.

The U.S. Challenge is based on the Polyup platform, a 3D math playground where students can tinker with expressions, play with shapes and build simulations—all for free. Students, teachers, and organizations have the ability to create their own activities on Polyup; for example, Stanford’s youcubed has already created custom activities in this environment and is running their own challenge based on the activities they created.

CUE, an education non-profit serving the professional learning needs of  more than 50,000 teachers and administrators in California and Nevada, is helping create activities for the U.S. Challenge. This new content links Common Core Standards for grades one through eight with new material each week to pace students through math concepts for their grade level. Computational Thinking Alliance will analyze fully anonymized data to measure the Challenge’s impact on student math skill development and prepare a report for Fall 2020. 

Khan Academy videos have been incorporated into these activities so that students can learn topics before applying them in the interactive playground. By providing a wide variety of activities and the chance for students to build and share the activities they have created, the U.S. Challenge will be an equitable and accessible solution for students at all levels.

There is No Learning Without Teachers and Parents

Teachers and parents are critical to the success of any education program’s success. AVID, the largest teacher professional development organization in the U.S., trains more than 85,000 teachers annually. They launched the AVID Poly Challenge to prepare their teachers for the U.S. Challenge. AVID Senior Learning Designer, Doug Ferguson, shared, “We’re committed to doing all that we can to close the opportunity gap for all students.  This mission takes on even more importance and urgency during these challenging times, which means providing as many opportunities as possible for students, teachers, and schools.” Participate is planning weekly live broadcasts to coach parents on encouraging and guiding their children through the 12-week-long event.

The U.S. Challenge tackles math and computer science for grades one through eight. It is one of the only solutions with a real plan to pace students through educational content that will meet them where they are at in their skill development and allow for students to be self-motivated to learn from home. With an elegant blend of pedagogy and educational technology, the U.S. Challenge represents a powerful collaborative effort to address equity and academic excellence during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Most exciting, is the opportunity to replace a sense of foreboding about “doing arithmetic” with a playful joy of creating with mathematics. Imagine.

This story and others on New Builders Dispatch are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit and connect with and