The U.S. Department of Education has announced two new changes in order to help students and families who have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
On Friday, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced in a press release that the department would be offering schools an option to bypass standardized testing for the 2019-2020 academic year as they cope with the impact of the health crisis.
“Students need to be focused on staying healthy and continuing to learn. Teachers need to be able to focus on remote learning and other adaptations,” DeVos said. “Neither students nor teachers need to be focused on high-stakes tests during this difficult time. Students are simply too unlikely to be able to perform their best in this environment.”
All states are mandated to test students each year in grades three through eight and once in high school. The tests, which typically occur in the spring, cover the students’ understanding of common core subjects, including English and math.
Under the new amendment, any state that believes it is unable to properly assess their students due to closures can apply for an exemption through a waiver online. DeVos also said those states can apply to be exempt from submitting this year’s testing data to the statewide accountability system.
Michael Brochstein/Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images Betsy DeVos
“Our actions today provide turnkey flexibilities for state and local leaders to focus on the immediate needs of their students and educators without worrying about federal repercussions,” she said. “We’re going to continue to provide every flexibility possible to help make that as simple as possible.”
In addition to changing their policies on standardized testing, DeVos announced that all federal student loan interest rates would be set to zero percent for at least 60 days, beginning on March 13, to help people cope with the impact of the virus.
The department established an automatic suspension of payments for anyone who is more than 31 days late and also gave borrowers the option of suspending their payments for at least two months as a way to avoid building up interest, according to the press release.
“These are anxious times, particularly for students and families whose educations, careers, and lives have been disrupted,” DeVos said. “Right now, everyone should be focused on staying safe and healthy, not worrying about their student loan balance growing.”
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As of Friday, there have been 15,650 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 202 deaths in the United States, according to a New York Times database.
In response to the climbing number of cases in the U.S., public schools have closed in some form in every state, American workers who can are teleworking and many cities and states have closed bars and restaurants to reduce human contact and further spread.
To prevent the spread of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages maintaining basic forms of hygiene including careful hand washing, avoiding touching the face, moving away from people who are coughing or sneezing and staying home at signs of illness.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.