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Federal action means likely cancellation of SOLs in Virginia

RICHMOND — Virginia’s state testing is likely to be canceled this year after the U.S. Department of Education said Friday that it would waive mandatory testing requirements.

Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane, the state’s K-12 leader, said Tuesday that the Virginia Department of Education would seek “maximum flexibility” related to the annual Standards of Learning tests given in the spring. The future of the school year is uncertain, though, as schools across the state remain shuttered to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

On Friday, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said the federal Education Department will give waivers – something Virginia plans to apply for – to states that are “unable to assess its students due to the ongoing national emergency."

“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 in a statement. “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.”

In a news release, the federal agency said that because student performance, which is measured by the mandated testing, is required by the Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal government’s primary K-12 education law, a state that receives a waiver can also get an exemption from using testing data in its statewide accountability system.

In Virginia, that system determines whether a school is accredited. The state tweaked its system in 2017, lessening the importance of standardized test scores, but the results are still the primary factor in a school’s rating.

“Given what we are now hearing about the potential duration of the coronavirus pandemic, we now have to seek further flexibility related to state testing. To do this, the commonwealth must have relief from the annual testing requirements under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act,” Lane said Tuesday. “Last week, the U.S. Department of Education said it would consider issuing waivers for individual schools impacted by COVID-19. We are beyond that now, and ask our federal partners for a process to grant statewide relief so states and schools can focus on the health and well-being of students.”

Waiving the testing requirement was one of two major actions announced Friday by the U.S. Department of Education.

The agency said it will also suspend federal student loan payments and waive interest that accumulates during the pandemic.

Federal borrowers will have their interest rates set to 0% for at least 60 days, the department said in a news release, and those borrowers will have the option of suspending their payments for at least two months “to allow them greater flexibility during the national emergency.”

“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. I commend President [Donald] Trump for his quick action on this issue, and I hope it provides meaningful help and peace of mind to those in need.”

Borrowers will still be able to make payments if they choose.


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