Relief Offered From Testing and Student Loans as Virus Roils Education

WASHINGTON — Elementary and secondary schools will not be required to do standardized testing, and student borrowers with federal loans can request a reprieve from loan payments while the nation confronts the spreading coronavirus, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced on Friday.

“A state that deems it necessary should proceed with canceling its statewide assessments,” the Education Department advised in a broad suspension of testing that has divided parents, students and educators alike since President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act.

The department also announced that all borrowers with federally held student loans will automatically have their interest rates set to 0 percent for at least 60 days. Those borrowers can also ask their loan servicers to suspend their payments for at least two months without penalty, the department said.

For borrowers who may want to continue payments, such as those enrolled in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, the full amount of their payment will be applied to the principal if their interest payments are up-to-date.

President Trump gave top billing to the loan relief in a news conference on Friday about the coronavirus, which has sickened more than 15,000 Americans, closed most public schools and universities and upended much of life.

“That’s a big thing. It is going to make a lot of students happy,” he said. He added that millions of students who had been affected by the closings “have been through a lot.”

The testing waiver was widely embraced by state and district superintendents who had been pressuring the department to issue expedited relief from federal testing mandates, which are tied to educational performance and accountability measurements in both state and federal law.

“State chiefs strongly believe in the importance of assessments and accountability, but now is the time to focus first on the safety and well-being of all students as educators assist them in weathering and recovering from this national emergency,” said Carissa Moffat Miller, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Districts were not only concerned with how they would administer the exams, as nearly every state in the country announced their schools would close for weeks, maybe more, but how the results would be used. As of Friday morning, 45 states have decided to close schools, according to Education Week, which has been tracking district closures.

“Neither students nor teachers need to be focused on high-stakes tests during this difficult time,” Ms. DeVos said in a statement.

Other education advocacy and civil rights organizations cautioned against “blanket national waivers from core components of the law.” In a statement, six organizations, including the Education Trust led by the former education secretary John B. King Jr., said “case-by-case consideration of each state’s needs is, at this time, most appropriate.”

“In approving any waiver requests,” the groups wrote, the department “must include critical assurances from states to ensure action will be taken to address lost instructional time and mitigate lags in student achievement and growth, especially for historically underserved students.”

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