This was supposed to be the real post-COVID school year for K-12 students. No mandatory masks plus available vaccines for kids as young as six months. And, this year, parents, teachers and kids were to be beyond the struggles and controversies about where students would be taught.

Massachusetts students have been settling in for their first days of classes eager for a full embrace of the after-pandemic new normal. What they face is daunting. Two weeks ago, a top educational survey organization reported that after two years of COVID, students here and across the country started the new year wrestling with significant learning losses.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress revealed that sobering conclusion after comparing the performance of a sample group of nearly 15,000 9-year-olds to another group of 9-year-olds who were tested early in 2020. Dr. Peggy G. Carr heads the National Center for Education Statistics, which administered the biannual test, considered the gold standard of educational assessments. She told the New York Times she was “taken aback by the scope and the magnitude of the decline.”

Carr noted the students at the bottom were “dropping faster.” For example, in math, Black students dropped 13 points, white students 5 points. Harvard University’s Dr. Andrew Ho, who is a former member of the Board which governs the exam, explained to the Times that a one-point loss equaled about three weeks of learning. A top student with a 3-point loss in math could catch up in about nine weeks, but a low-performing student with a 12-point loss would need 36 weeks or almost nine months to catch up.

One of the solutions is what Tennessee’s Commissioner of state education Penny Schwinn describes as “high dosage” tutoring. Schwinn told NPR, “High dosage means two to three times per week for at least 30 minutes and no more than three students in a group.”

Closing the learning gap losses will require enhanced learning methods including ramped-up tutoring, extended school days, summer learning and a reduction in class sizes. But how can school districts, grappling with a national teacher shortage and other staff, find multitudes of high-caliber tutors, and learning specialists? Boston Globe Opinion columnist Marcela Garcia recently reported “hundreds” of Boston Public School vacancies still open before the first day of school. Vacancies that prevented some children from even getting to school because BPS couldn’t fill openings for “28 safety specialists and more than 100 bus monitors which are required to ride in buses alongside certain students with disabilities.”

The federal government has earmarked billions of dollars specifically to reverse the pandemic-linked academic slide. I worry that the same bureaucracy which slowed schools’ initial ability to get pandemic relief funds will slow the distribution of this new funding. This is now a documented crisis. It’s unlikely that any of the students who lived through COVID, including the high performing ones, will not suffer some learning loss. Ensuring that they catch up is the least of what needs doing.