What a difference a year can make.

During the 2018-19 school year, the inaugural results of a state-mandated dyslexia screening showed that 42 percent of Lindbergh students in kindergarten through third grade were identified as at-risk for dyslexia. 

But Lindbergh has since dramatically cut the number of students identified as at-risk for dyslexia, as shown by the results of the latest tests administered in the 2019-20 school year. That’s according to Craig Hamby, the district’s director of elementary education, who presented the data at the Lindbergh Schools Board of Education meeting Tuesday night.

Hamby did not present overall district numbers, but during the presentation he showed examples of improvements by individual grades. For instance, during testing in the 2018-19 school year, 37% of district kindergarten students were identified at high risk for dyslexia.

A year later, that percentage fell to 12% of district kindergarten students who identified as high-risk for dyslexia, according to numbers Hamby provided.

He said credit for the improvement goes to district teachers, a renewed emphasis on phonemic awareness and reliance on the “Sonday”  program, a phonics-based reading curriculum for early grade school students.

“There wasn’t a lot of phonics and phonemic awareness instruction previously,” Hamby said after the meeting. “We started piloting some programs last year, but this is the first year where everybody K-2 (kindergarten through second grade) had a consistent program of teaching phonemic awareness.”

Diane Dragan, the mother of three children with dyslexia and an outspoken critic of the district’s reading programs, took a skeptical view of Lindbergh’s improved screening scores.

Dragan said it’s not possible to compare this year’s test scores with last year’s because “the school intentionally switched subtests and tested in far fewer areas this year than last year.” 

Concerns about the quality of Lindbergh’s reading programs and the resulting impact on district families advocating for more resources for their kids have generated a great deal of controversy on social media, as well as sharp criticism aimed at administrators and board members.

Karen Luning, a reading specialist at Crestwood and Concord grade schools, pushed back against the criticism when she spoke at the school board meeting earlier this week.

“We are hearing and reading statements that we are refusing to help kids, that we don’t want all kids to read, and this is ultimately what brought me here tonight,” Luning said, noting she had recently heard upsetting comments from parents and community members. 

“Someone stated to a teacher that suicide might be traced to the inability of schools to teach children to read and write ... I find this approach of publicly blaming us for neglect, suicide and crime to be deeply concerning and harmful to our learning community as a whole.”

Karen Schuster, president of the  Lindbergh Schools Board of Education,  reassured Luning that she and her fellow district teachers have the full faith and support of the board and the administration. 

“We believe in what you all are doing. We know you’re working really hard every day, and we’re making strides to improve what’s happening for our kids every day,” Schuster said.