Parents at Lindbergh Schools have for years been demanding more resources and new instructional techniques — including greater focus on phonics-based literacy education — to help students struggling with dyslexia and other reading problems.
Soon, it appears, their efforts will be getting a national close-up, thanks to an upcoming New York Times article focusing on reading education and parental advocacy in school districts nationwide.
A New York Times reporter has reached out to the district for a story about “the national conversation around literacy instruction,” according to a Jan. 31 letter to district teachers from Lindbergh Schools Superintendent Tony Lake and Chief Academic Officer Tara Sparks, who was interviewed for the story.
Lake and Sparks wrote that the conversation with the New York Times reporter was broad and did not focus specifically on Lindbergh.
“Our message to the (New York) Times this week was about how our teachers use a variety of resources to provide personalized instruction that meets the needs of individual students and is not one-size fits all,” the letter said.
And in a disclosure that many Lindbergh parents would likely view as a sign of progress, Lake and Sparks acknowledged in their letter that Lindbergh’s reading instruction was missing an important phonics component, but spoke to the growth that has already resulted from the district’s implementation of “Sonday,” a phonics-based reading system.”
The apparent catalyst for the New York Times story occurred in early November when parent advocate Diane Dragan, the mother of three Lindbergh students diagnosed with dyslexia, posted a letter to the district’s board of education on the private “Lindbergh Leaders in Literacy Facebook” page. The letter, which described the science of reading and urged Lindbergh Schools to follow it, was accompanied by signatures of more than 200 parents.
“Somebody posted it on Twitter, and it was going around,” Dragan said.
A few days later, New York Times national education reporter Dana Goldstein reached out to Dragan, who said Goldstein’s questions indicated the story was a big picture take on parent advocacy groups in schools nationwide.
Lindbergh Schools spokesperson Beth Johnston told the South County Times that it is the district’s understanding that New York Times story focuses on a nationwide discussion of literacy instruction, and not specifically about the parent group in Lindbergh.
“The New York Times contacted us last week, and Chief Academic Officer Dr. Tara Sparks spoke with the reporter,” Johnston said. “During the interview, she shared data and information that has previously been shared with the South County Times about the district’s literacy instruction.”
Goldstein, who is based in New York City, did not respond to messages directed to her Facebook page and personal web site.
In recent months, some Lindbergh parents have expressed concerns about the results of a state-mandated dyslexia screening test administered last year to students in kindergarten through third grade. The results showed that 42 percent of the Lindbergh students who were tested were identified as at-risk for dyslexia. The most common learning disability, dyslexia involves difficulty with spelling, reading and decoding abilities, but it does not affect general intelligence.
On average, between 15 and 20 percent of any school population would be expected to test as at-risk for dyslexia. That more than 40 percent of Lindbergh students tested as at-risk for the disability indicates problems with the district approach toward literacy, according to Dragan, the Lindbergh parent.
But Sparks said she was surprised by that number “to the degree that I feel that was not the reality we’re seeing in class.”
Bryan Painter, Kirkwood School District’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, agrees. Painter has said that the types of data reported to DESE varied widely from district to district, resulting in “high-risk” numbers for some districts that are not reflective of the district’s true numbers.
Kim Stuckey with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education acknowledged that glitches in the data collection were expected during the first year of the screenings. She said the state department will hopefully get a better sense of “true” numbers next year.