The achievement gap between young White students and students of color in the District has widened during the pandemic while the number of students reaching early literacy benchmarks has declined since schools shut down in March, according to data released by D.C. Public Schools.

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser and Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee have pointed to learning loss to reinforce their point that there is an urgent need to reopen schools, even as the city and the teachers union fail to agree on how to safely bring teachers and students into buildings. Some elementary students are expected to return to classrooms Nov. 9.

The number of kindergartners hitting early literacy targets this fall dropped by 11 percentage points, compared with kindergartners who took the exam at the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic year. First-graders experienced a drop of 12 percentage points, and second-graders saw a decline of seven percentage points.

Last week, Bowser and Ferebee pointed to a 22-percentage-point drop in the number of kindergartners meeting or exceeding literacy benchmarks. That widely reported data point was inaccurate; it appears city officials used an incorrect comparison.

But education officials stressed that, despite the error, they believe significant learning loss is still evident.

“While it is typical (for us and other districts) to see students experience a ‘summer slide,’ it does not result in large scale dips such as what we see this year,” the school system wrote in a statement. “DCPS believes these results this year are indicative of the extended time away from the classroom since March to the testing time in September, as opposed to our typical summer, beginning from the end of June.”

This early literacy data is the first measure the school system has provided to indicate how student academics have been affected by the abrupt switch to virtual learning. The data is based on virtual assessments administered to students in kindergarten through second grade by their teachers one-on-one this fall on an exam known as DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills).

The assessment is administered in short bursts and measures skills such as a child’s grasp of phonics, accuracy while reading and vocabulary.

It is unclear how taking the tests remotely affected the outcomes and whether improved remote learning in the fall is boosting student performance. The school system relied heavily on paper packets to teach students in the spring and have provided technology and a more robust online curriculum to students this academic year.

The early literacy data showed that the achievement gap between White students and students of color widened during the pandemic. At the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic year, 45 percent of Black students and 73 percent of White children in kindergarten through second grade who took the early literacy assessment met expectations.

At the beginning of the current academic year, the number of Black children who met the literacy benchmarks dropped by 14 percentage points, to 31 percent. For White students, it dropped six percentage points, to 67 percent. Latino students dropped 12 percentage points, from 42 percent of students passing the exam to 30 percent.

The school system also provided data showing how the current first-graders performed compared with their midyear literacy assessments in kindergarten just before schools shut down. Those students dropped 20 percentage points. The larger decline is in part because children typically experience academic losses after summer breaks. This year’s second-graders experienced a reduction of 15 percent points in the number of students meeting literacy goals, compared with when they took their midyear assessment as first-graders.

Officials said these figures are based on 10,061 students taking the assessments. The school system enrolled 13,261 students in kindergarten through second grade last academic year; final enrollment numbers for these grades this fall have not been released.