As COVID-related setbacks to student learning continue to affect students nationwide, one of the most concerning trends academically is how far behind students are falling in math. Even before COVID-19, only 13% of Black and 19% of Hispanic 8th graders were proficient in math. The pandemic has only made this worse: according to a 2020 study conducted by The Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University, the average loss in math is estimated to be from two-thirds to 1.3 years of learning, with Black and Hispanic students being particularly impacted 

The pandemic put the benefits of tech-enabled solutions front and center. While traditional math curriculum providers struggled to adjust and adapt to a remote and hybrid environment, digital and tech-enabled curriculum and solution providers were able to quickly respond to student needs, decreasing the amount of interrupted learning that students experienced.  

Over the last year, demand for both ST Math and Zearn, two tech-enabled math organizations that our Foundation has funded for several years, has skyrocketed. In the first three months of the pandemic, student sign-ups for ST Math increased by 2x and parent signups increased by 10x. Similarly, Zearn saw a 12x spike in weekly accounts as administrators, teachers, and parents signed up to access the platform. Since March 2020, both solutions have increased their K-8 market share while expanding their product offerings to meet the moment, including building out support for parents, training for teachers, and easy-to-understand data on student learning.  

What is behind this growth in usage and demand? Digital curriculum like Zearn and supplemental solutions like ST Math can deliver learning anytime, anywhere, and help enable teaching at scale. This past year made it more apparent than ever that students needed access to high-quality, instructional programming they can access from wherever they may learn. At the same time, teachers needed effective solutions they can use easily and that help them support individual student’s needs, and parents needed resources that allowed them to support their children’s math learning at home. These things were all true prior to COVID-19, but the pandemic brought them to the forefront.  

These trends could explain why districts are predicted to spend more than six-fold on digital materials and around 15% less on print-only offerings next year. Yet not all tech-enabled solutions are created equal, making it harder than ever for schools and districts to know which products offer the best experience and outcomes for their students.   

Based on our previous investments, landscape analyses, and research, the Innovative Schools portfolio believes that research-based and rigorously evaluated platforms that offer a full-suite of services (including standards-aligned curriculum, teacher support, data assessment, and personalization) are most likely to benefit students. Our goal is to help these types of solutions continue to improve and scale, and to strengthen evidence-based decision making in edtech purchasing and innovation through ongoing validation, field building, and knowledge generation.    

Aligned with this goal, we are excited to provide increased and continued support for two best-in-class tech-enabled math solutions: ST Math and Zearn. Both are comprehensive platforms that address emerging student and teacher needs and have gained increased momentum during the pandemic.   

Not all tech-enabled solutions are created equal, making it harder than ever for schools and districts to know which products offer the best experience and outcomes for their students.   

About ST Math

MIND Research Institute believes every student has the potential to deeply understand and truly love math. The organization’s flagship program, ST Math, is a PreK-8 visual supplemental instructional program that leverages the brain’s innate spatial-temporal reasoning ability to solve mathematical problems. ST Math’s unique, patented approach provides students with equitable access to learning through challenging puzzles, non-routine problem solving, and informative feedback.  

What makes ST Math stand out?  

  • ST Math is a supplemental, visual instructional math program that is standards-aligned and grounded in neuroscience research. The program removes language as a barrier to learning math, one key step to reaching more students, especially English Learners.   
  • The evidence-based impact of ST Math has been shown through over 100 efficacy studies, third-party validations, and annual evaluations. In 2018, independent education research firm WestEd found that schools that consistently used ST Math outgrew similar schools in statewide rank by 14 percentile points.   
  • ST Math is growing quickly, with 1.6 million students in over 7,000 schools currently using it as part of their math learning. The program is participating in a statewide partnership in Texas and a district-wide partnership in the Los Angeles Unified School District.   
  • ST Math meets learners where they are—especially critical when students will return at different levels. It scaffolds grade-level standards by first presenting concepts visually and then, as a student plays, connecting the ideas to symbols and operations. With ST Math, students will not play catch up, a situation that too often and disproportionately affects students of color, those from low-income backgrounds, students with disabilities, and English learners. 

Our $3.75 million three-year grant to ST Math will support the expansion of their product portfolio and the process of building their core curriculum, while continuing to support their research and development and data capacity efforts. We expect this to result in more than two million students using ST Math by 2022, and more than 3 million by 2024.  

We have seen increased school, district, teacher, and parent appetite for solutions that provide flexibility in instruction delivery as well as usage and impact data to demonstrate efficacy.

About Zearn

Zearn Math is an evidence-based math curriculum used by one in four elementary school students in the U.S. Zearn offers an integrated approach to visual math teaching and learning through the only K-5 EdReports greenlit curriculum with daily personalized software-based lessons, a professional development platform, and actionable data on student learning for teachers and school and district leaders.   

What makes Zearn stand out?  

  • Zearn is the only K-5 math curriculum greenlit by EdReports with an aligned digital component. No other K-5 HQIM has aligned top-rated digital math lessons for students. Zearn offers Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 intervention for every day of K–5 instruction.  
  • Currently, 6.5M registered students in over 50% of districts across the country learn with Zearn. Usage heavily over-indexes towards higher-poverty schools. For 2021-22, Zearn has been adopted statewide by several state education agencies, including the Nebraska Department of Education and Delaware Department of Education on statewide initiatives to accelerate math learning. 
  • Past studies of Zearn have found that learning with Zearn Math increases student achievement and engagement with math—for all kids. Students who complete daily digital lessons alongside instruction have double the learning gains of a typical year of instruction.  
  • Zearn has several offerings to accelerate missed learning:
    • A Summer 2021 Math Intensive Series with the essential math content that rising 1st through 8th grade students should master before starting the 2021–22 academic year. Materials can be used flexibly across summer school models, tutoring programs, or outside of school summer learning.
    • Yearlong grade-level digital math lessons with built-in Tier 1 intervention that address unfinished learning in the context of new learning, integrating new information, and the needed prior knowledge. Materials can be used standalone with Zearn’s top-rated curriculum or alongside other high-quality instructional materials.
    • Comprehensive materials for extended-time math tutoring programs that can be used by tutors with a range of teaching experience to accelerate grade-level learning for all students.
  • Zearn regularly shares data and insights on math learning with K–12 leaders, policymakers, community leaders, families, schools, districts, counties, and states to help shape the direction of equitable math learning.  

Our $4.5 million three-year grant to Zearn will help expand and strengthen the quality and implementation of their digital K-8 math curriculum while increasing their impact at scale at a pivotal time in their growth journey.  

What next

Not all edtech is created equal, which can make it hard for districts to choose what best serves their students. By placing our funding behind research-based and rigorously evaluated platforms that offer standards-aligned curriculum, teacher support, data assessment, and personalization, we believe we can help the most impactful solutions reach the most number of students.  

Our strategy is aligned with and supportive of trends in K-12 schooling. We have seen increased school, district, teacher, and parent appetite for solutions that provide flexibility in instruction delivery as well as usage and impact data to demonstrate efficacy, positioning both Zearn and ST Math as prime candidates for increased scale and impact. We are excited to bolster our support for both of these organizations through multiyear grants that allow them to focus on meeting immediate student needs, as well as plan for the future, and we look forward to learning from them as they continue to test and grow their models.  

As schools look for additional ways to leverage more of their budgets towards digital instructional tools, we hope to surface additional data-driven, scalable, and high-quality platforms that enable more equitable math learning for all students. Doing so will help ensure that budgets are spent on solutions that cost-effectively improve teaching and learning for all students.