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STAAR data shows Tyler ISD maintaining gains after major districtwide changes at elementary, middle schools

The Tyler Independent School District saw major changes at elementary and middle school campuses this year, but preliminary results from state-mandated testing show students maintained academic progress.

Thousands of Tyler ISD students attended different campuses as a result of a districtwide campus attendance rezoning initiative, the closure of Dogan Middle School and the shifting of Caldwell Arts Academy to a full arts magnet.

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Christy Hanson said preliminary results from the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness show that overall the district maintained improvements it saw last year and also saw areas of growth. Hanson said the data could change some as other factors, such as results from retests, are accounted for.

Hanson credits the results to a literacy push and increased teacher training on foundational skills, such as phonics.

“Overall we are pleased with the results,” she said. “We really do feel like there will be some celebrating.”

The only decreases in achievement were among third grade students, and the decreases were 3 percentage points or less, which the district deems statistically insignificant.

The third grade results were still an improvement over the 2016-17 school year, though.

Year-to-year comparisons going back further are difficult to assess due to changes in the state’s accountability system and the tests.

With the shifting of attendance zones, it is also difficult to assess year-to-year growth on a class level because in some cases a portion of students in a previous class were at a different campus this year.

The district uses Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, testing throughout the year to track growth on an individual level. Teachers then adjust curriculum and intervention based on the results.

“With a lot of caution, we can track the true data if the test stays the same,” Hanson said. “When we teach the standards at the depth and complexity (necessary), the kids will do well.”

Fourth and seventh grade writing saw the biggest improvements at the district level.

Hanson pointed to improved reading scores in those grades as a reason writing improved.

“We know that if kids become better readers, they’ll become better writers,” she said.

Hanson said the district made the big changes it saw last year in order to put students in the best possible position to learn and grow.

With early childhood literacy remaining the district’s area of greatest need, administrators are hoping some big changes will improve those numbers over the next few years.

Master teachers and campus administrators have started training with the University of Houston’s Children’s Learning Centers to bring better phonetic teaching techniques to their campuses.

The district also recently decided to shutter its Head Start program in favor of districtwide full day pre-K. District officials believe the move will allow greater control of curriculum and the opportunity to bring in hundreds more students, who will be better equipped to start elementary school.

“What we want to do is give every student the opportunity to be an on grade level reader,” Hanson said.

At its June meeting, in which the district made the decision to shift from Head Start to pre-K, officials estimated that about half of the students who will enter kindergarten are currently enrolled in district Head Start or pre-K programs.

Previous newspaper coverage revealed End of Course STAAR results for high school students. John Tyler High School saw big improvements and Robert E. Lee High School maintained the level of results that earned the campus academic distinctions in the past accountability ratings.


'Aquafest' helps kids, adults with disabilities go water skiing

Like many kids, Lane Meador, 12, went out to the lake for a classic summer activity — water skiing. Unlike many kids, a vehicle wreck at 5 years old left him with a severed spinal cord and to grow up using a wheelchair.

The Lake Palestine Adaptive Aquafest on Saturday, however, allowed him and other children and adults with disabilities to get out on the water for some summer fun.

“It was fast and fun,” Lane said of his first time water skiing.

Once called, a skier was set up with a custom ski and assisted into the water. When the boat took off, two professional skiers would ride alongside to provide balance to the skier.

“Stuart held my life jacket so I could hold my hands in the air,” Lane said.

Lane’s mother, Kim Meador, said the event helped give some independence to her son and that events like this are needed in the area.

“I think it’s needed for kids with disabilities to get out and just be free for a day, free of their disability,” she said.

It was the first time for the Meador family to attend the event but they said it could become a new celebration for them each summer.

In its eighth year, the Lake Palestine Adaptive Aquafest took place at the home of Debbie Bryant, which is located next to the water. Bryant began hosting the event because her late husband enjoyed water skiing with Texas Adaptive Aquatics.

Attendees could also go tubing or ride on a pontoon. The Aquafest also provided opportunities beyond having fun on the lake, Bryant said.

“It’s a good social life for them,” she said. “They really look forward to this once a year. It really means a lot to them.”

The event was free with the help of sponsors, volunteers and Texas Adaptive Aquatics.

“We have a whole lot of volunteers that come out, and we couldn’t do it without them,” Roni Thelen said.

Thelen was responsible for calling out skiers to make sure they all got their turn. She was one of dozens of volunteers who made the day possible.

Marshall Tate, 77, of Huffman, has volunteered for the event the past four years. He said he has found working with persons with disabilities enlightening. Skiers can often be scared before going out on the water but have a different mindset when it’s over, Tate said.

“When they leave, they have the biggest smile on their face you ever saw,” he said. “That’ll make you cry.”

Trump postpones nationwide immigration enforcement sweep

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Saturday delayed a nationwide immigration sweep to deport people living the United States illegally, including families, saying he would give lawmakers two weeks to work out solutions for the southern border.

The move came after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Trump on Friday asking him to call off the raids. But three administration officials said scrapping the operation was not just about politics. They said Immigration and Customs Enforcement leaders had expressed serious concerns that officers’ safety would be in jeopardy because too many details about the raids had been made public.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to speak about private discussions.

“At the request of Democrats, I have delayed the Illegal Immigration Removal Process (Deportation) for two weeks to see if the Democrats and Republicans can get together and work out a solution to the Asylum and Loophole problems at the Southern Border,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “If not, Deportations start!”

The operation, which sparked outrage and concern among immigrant advocates, had been expected to begin Sunday and would target people with final orders of removal, including families whose immigration cases had been fast-tracked by judges.

The cancellation was another sign of the Trump administration’s difficulty managing the border crisis. The number of people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border has risen dramatically under Trump, despite his tough rhetoric and hard-line policies. Balancing a White House eager to push major operational changes with the reality on the ground is a constant challenge for the Department of Homeland Security.

Trump gave the first public word of the planned sweep earlier this week, saying in a tweet that an operation was coming up and the agency would begin to remove “millions” of people who were in the United States illegally. Later, leaks to the media included sensitive law enforcement details, such as the day it was to begin, Sunday, plus specific cities and other operational details.

On Saturday, ICE spokeswoman Carol Danko criticized the leaks in context of their potential impact on ICE personnel, saying in a statement that “any leaks telegraphing sensitive law enforcement operations is egregious and puts our officers’ safety in danger.”

Pelosi called Trump on Friday night and the two spoke for about 12 minutes, according to a person familiar with the situation and not authorized to discuss it publicly. She asked him to call off the raids and he said he would consider the request, the person said.

It’s unclear what else was said during the call. But in a statement Saturday before the president’s decision was announced, Pelosi appealed to the same compassion Trump expressed in declining to strike Iran because of the potential for lost lives.

“The President spoke about the importance of avoiding the collateral damage of 150 lives in Iran. I would hope he would apply that same value to avoiding the collateral damage to tens of thousands of children who are frightened by his actions,” she said.

She called the raids “heartless.”

Pelosi responded to Trump’s announcement with her own tweet, saying: “Mr. President, delay is welcome. Time is needed for comprehensive immigration reform. Families belong together.”

Halting the flow of illegal immigration has been Trump’s signature campaign issue, but Congress has been unable to push his proposals into law with resistance from both Democrats and Republicans. Bipartisan talks over the immigration system have started and stalled but are again underway among some in the Senate.

Lawmakers are considering whether to give $4.6 billion in emergency funding to help border agencies struggling to manage a growing number of migrants crossing the border. The measure passed a Senate committee on a 30-1 vote. But the House is considering its own measure. Funding is running out and Congress is trying to approve legislation before the House and Senate recess next week.

Earlier Saturday, Trump hinted the operation was still on, saying the people ICE was looking for “have already been ordered to be deported.”

“This means that they have run from the law and run from the courts,” Trump said.

Coordinated enforcement operations take months to plan. Surprise is also an important element. ICE officers don’t have a search warrant and are working from files with addresses and must go to people’s home and ask to be let inside. Immigrants are not required to open their doors, and increasingly they don’t. Officers generally capture about 30% to 40% of targets.

The planned operation was heavily criticized by Democratic lawmakers as cruel, and many local mayors said they would refuse to cooperate with ICE. Immigrant advocates stepped up know-your-rights campaigns.

Another complication is that ICE needs travel paperwork from a home country to deport someone, so immigrants often end up detained at least temporarily waiting for a flight. ICE was reserving hotel rooms for families in the event the operation went off as planned Sunday.

The adult population of detainees was 53,141 as of June 8, though the agency is only budgeted for 45,000. There were 1,662 in family detention, also at capacity, and one of the family detention centers is currently housing single adults.