Schooled Reporting on education

COVID-19 cancels tests—globally

Education | The International Baccalaureate comes up with alternatives to end-of-year testing
by Laura Edghill
Posted 4/08/20, 03:45 pm

For the first time in more than 50 years of operation, the Swiss-based International Baccalaureate organization canceled its final subject exams for this year’s graduating high school seniors after the coronavirus pandemic disrupted schools worldwide. Last month’s announcement answered a massive looming question on the minds of IB students everywhere, but it left many uncertain about how fair the substitute process will be.

In place of the exams, individual programs will submit a comprehensive profile of each student, and the IB committee will award a final diploma score using a calculation that includes past grades plus a predicted final course grade based on work students completed before COVID-19 disruptions.

“I’m kind of worried about that,” 17-year-old Yousif Askar of Warren, Mich., said. He attends the International Academy of Macomb, a collaborative program with 19 participating public school districts and one of the more than 1,700 IB programs offered in the United States.

Askar explained that this year’s IB calculation will include grades from as early as the first semester of his junior year: “My writing has gotten a lot better than last year.” He also said he likes math and wishes he could take the exam, but “other people will probably happily not take a math exam.”

More than 150 countries use the rigorous IB high school diploma curriculum. The programs’ globally standardized curriculum is particularly popular in international schools. Many Christian schools host IB programs because they see correlations between its structures and goals and those of classical education. The IB experience culminates in the organization’s final subject area exams every spring. The scores from those exams ultimately yield a number that becomes the student’s IB diploma score.

For some students, like Askar, the unexpected change most likely works in their favor.

“I feel confident enough in the work I’ve done over the last two years,” he said. “On the other hand, people who don’t feel like they did their best now wish they could take the IB exams.”

And while the vast majority of U.S. schools are scrambling to get homework to homebound students, Askar said that’s not the case for IB students.

“I just took my last IB-related test yesterday,” he said on Tuesday, “so now I have absolutely nothing to do.” He added that most of his teachers had finished the course content and the remainder of the school year would have been spent practicing for the exams normally held in May.

IB issued updated guidance on this year’s plan on Tuesday and will release final diploma scores by July 5. Scores range up to 45, and a score in the upper 30s is considered competitive for college admission. Students who are not satisfied with their final diploma score can appeal. Anyone not anxious to start college this fall could also opt to take their exams next year.

Associated Press/Photo by Alex Brandon (file) Associated Press/Photo by Alex Brandon (file) Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

Skipped loan payments OK (for now)

The $2 trillion stimulus package Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed into law late last month gives a break to federal student loan holders hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. The mammoth Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act allows borrowers with federal loans to suspend their payments through the end of September and not incur any additional interest during that time.

With the nation’s unemployment rates skyrocketing, the relief provision is intended to provide a financial buffer for borrowers whose incomes have changed due to COVID-19.

The U.S. Department of Education also announced it is temporarily halting collections on defaulted federal student loans retroactive to March 13.

“These are difficult times for many Americans, and we don’t want to do anything that will make it harder for them to make ends meet or create additional stress,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said.

Borrowers can temporarily skip payments on the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which requires a strict uninterrupted 120 monthly payments for eligibility. Skipped payments through the end of September will still count toward the total required. Employers who provide student loan payments as an employee benefit can pay up to $5,250 per worker tax-free this year. —L.E.

Associated Press/Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer (file) Associated Press/Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer (file) Keanon Lowe talks to reporters.

Honoring heroes

A citizen Congressional Medal of Honor this year is going to a quick-thinking high school security guard who prevented a tragedy at a Portland, Ore., high school last May. Former University of Oregon football star Keanon Lowe’s split-second decision to tackle and disarm a student who pulled a shotgun from under a trench coat saved lives, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

The society will honor another recipient posthumously. Twenty-one-year-old University of North Carolina at Charlotte student Riley Howell died in last April’s campus attack that killed two and injured four. Howell is credited with preventing a much bigger tragedy by rushing the shooter and buying time for police to respond.

And in a special category for young heroes, the society will award 15-year-old Christian “Riley” Garcia a medal posthumously as well. Garcia blocked the door to an art classroom during last May’s deadly shooting in Santa Fe, N.M., holding off the gunman long enough for students to exit through another door.

The society will schedule a ceremony at a later date, once authorities lift coronavirus gathering restrictions. —L.E.

Teachers on parade

Even though schools are closed nearly everywhere in the United States, teachers are finding ways to encourage the kids in their care. To cheer up students stuck at home, teachers across the country are covering their cars with streamers, balloons, and paint as they drive through neighborhoods in “teacher parades.”

The details vary, but reports are rolling in from all across the country about this newest school tradition. Teachers and school administrators from Texas, Indiana, Georgia, Michigan, and other states have jumped on the bandwagon. —L.E.

Laura Edghill

Laura Edghill is a freelance writer, church communications director, and public school board member living in Clinton Township, Mich., with her engineer husband and three sons. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.

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