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Education Dept. Makes Changes To Standardized Tests, Student Loans Over Coronavirus

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies at a Feb. 27 hearing on Capitol Hill.
Alex Brandon
/
AP

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Education announced new K-12 and higher education policies in response to disruptions caused by the coronavirus.

In K-12, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced the department will waive standardized test requirements for states affected by the virus. States must apply for the exemption, and many have already begun to do so. "Neither students nor teachers need to be focused on high-stakes tests during this difficult time," DeVos said in a statement. "Students are simply too unlikely to be able to perform their best in this environment."

Under federal law, states are required to test students each year in core subjects in grades three through eight, plus once during high school. These tests typically take place in the spring. Although most states have moved to computer-based testing, this announcement is a recognition of the reality that schools are shut down and education has been interrupted for most students nationwide.

The department also announced that people with federal student loans will automatically have their interest rates set to 0% for at least the next 60 days. Borrowers will also have the option to suspend payments entirely for at least two months without accruing interest, but they must request these terms — officially called forbearance — by reaching out to their loan servicers either online or on the phone. This may become a challenge, as many servicers have been disrupted by the pandemic. The department has also authorized an automatic suspension of payments for any borrower more than 31 days delinquent as of March 13, 2020, or who becomes more than 31 days delinquent, essentially giving borrowers a safety net during the national emergency.

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Elissa Nadworny covers higher education and college access for NPR. She's led the NPR Ed team's multiplatform storytelling – incorporating radio, print, comics, photojournalism, and video into the coverage of education. In 2017, that work won an Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation. As an education reporter for NPR, she's covered many education topics, including new education research, chronic absenteeism, and some fun deep-dives into the most popular high school plays and musicals and the history behind a classroom skeleton.
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