Jackie Valley, Ariel Gilreath, Claire Bryan, Trisha Powell Crain, Maura Turcotte and Talia Richman:

“I don’t really like math but I kind of do,” James says. “It’s challenging but I like it.”

Across the country, schools are scrambling to get students caught up in math as post-pandemic test scores reveal the depth of kids’ missing skills. On average students’ math knowledge is about half a school year behind where it should be, according to education analysts.

Children lost ground on reading tests, too, but the math declines were particularly striking. Experts say virtual learning complicated math instruction, making it tricky for teachers to guide students over a screen or spot weaknesses in their problem-solving skills. Plus, parents were more likely to read with their children at home than practice math.

The result: Students’ math skills plummeted across the board, exacerbating racial and socioeconomic inequities in math performance that existed before the pandemic. And students aren’t bouncing back as quickly as educators hoped, supercharging worries about how they will fare as they enter high school and college-level math courses that rely on strong foundational knowledge.

Students had been making incremental progress on national math tests since 1990. But over the past year, data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the “nation’s report card,” showed that fourth graders and eighth graders’ math scores slipped to the lowest levels in about 20 years.

“Another way to put it is that it’s a generation’s worth of progress lost,” says Andrew Ho, a professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education.