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April 3rd, 2012
12:52 PM ET

New York pulls plans to ban words from standardized tests

NYC had initially sought to keep words like "dinosaur" and "Halloween" off standardized school tests.

By Brian Vitagliano, CNN

New York (CNN) - One week after New York's Department of Education drew controversy with a request to ban 50 words and references from the city's standardized tests – including “dinosaur,” “birthday” and "religion" – the department announced Tuesday that it is abandoning the plan.

"After reconsidering our message to test publishers and the reaction from parents, we will revise our guidance and eliminate the list of words to avoid on tests,” New York Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky said in a statement.

“We will continue to advise companies to be sensitive to student backgrounds and avoid unnecessary distractions that could invalidate test scores and give an inaccurate assessment of how students are doing," the statement continued.

The list of words New York hoped to ban from tests was made public when the city’s education department released this year’s "request for proposal" for test publishers across the country. The city is looking for vendors to revamp math and English tests for its students.

The list of words, which included “divorce,” “Halloween,” “Christmas” and “television,” attracted considerable criticism, with many alleging it was political correctness gone too far.

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In its request for proposal, the NYC Department of Education explained that it wanted to avoid certain words if "the topic is controversial among the adult population and might not be acceptable in a state-mandated testing situation; the topic has been overused in standardized tests or textbooks and is thus overly familiar and/or boring to students; the topic appears biased against (or toward) some group of people."

Matthew Mittenthal, a spokesman for the NYC Department of Education, said last week that this is the fifth year his agency has created such a list. The request for proposal said certain words "could evoke unpleasant emotions in the students."

Apparently, many of the words on New York’s list were avoided because of faith-based concerns.

For instance, the use of the word "birthday" or the phrase "birthday celebrations" may offend Jehovah's Witnesses, who do not celebrate birthdays. A representative for the Jehovah's Witnesses declined to comment on the use of the word "birthday."

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The Department of Education would not go on the record to explain the specific reasons for each word, leaving many to draw their own conclusions.

"Halloween" may suggest paganism; "divorce" may conjure up uneasy feelings for children in the midst of split within their family. The term "rock 'n' roll" was also on the "avoid" list.

The New York Post speculated that the "dinosaurs" could "call to mind evolution, which might upset fundamentalists."

Stanford University professor Sam Wineburg, director of Stanford’s History Education Group, welcomed Tuesday’s announcement.

“It is a courageous move,” he said. “Any time educators reverse a decision that was public, which received air time in the press, it's an act of courage and to recover a position of common sense."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: New York • Schools

soundoff (580 Responses)
  1. Dl

    Let's ban education in our schools – that way no one get's offensive thots in their minds

    April 3, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  2. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things
    Definitely proven

    April 3, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Jesus

      It has NEVER been proven liar you are so full of crap. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs.!`

      April 3, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • Hooligan

      says who?

      April 3, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • Wanfuforever

      Uh, yeah...no. You show me the 'proof' and I'll show you what "anecdote" means.

      April 3, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • TheWiz71

      As a Christian, I must ask you to stop your uncharitable, no, hateful attacks on others. Jesus commanded us to love one another as he has loved us – and to love our enemies, to bless those who hate us. Sorry, but you post the same hateful things on every board. In the name of the Lord of Love I ask you to just stop it. And yes, prayer changes things, but your hateful nomenclature, and no personal elucidation as to why you are saying this, not to mention that THIS ARTICLE IS NOT ABOUT PRAYER, actually distracts from, and derides that message. So, as a Christian, I ask you to stop giving the rest of us a bad name.

      April 3, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • Mythology is not healthy for children or other living things

      It is proven to change an otherwise rational person into a fool who thinks magic spells spoken to an invisible man who lives in the sky will get them what they want.

      April 3, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  3. ATPMSD

    The statement "We will continue to advise companies to be sensitive to student backgrounds and avoid unnecessary distractions that could invalidate test scores and give an inaccurate assessment of how students are doing," is a back handed way of continuing this stupid idea.

    April 3, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  4. Jim

    We are doomed 😦

    April 3, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • Jmcd

      Is the word "feces" on the ban list? It may make the kids uncomfortable to know what it means, but its probably better to teach them this word as an alternative to the street slang (s***) they learned when they were 5 years old. Since when should someone's "comfort" level with a word have anything at all to whether or not the word is on a vocabulary or spelling list? I am uncomfortable with the word "uncomfortable"!

      April 3, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  5. Strange

    Government plans to BAN EVOLUTION SCIENCE in 2013-2020 TESTS. Why they want to ban EVOLUTION and INTELLIGENT DESIGN?

    Because They fear ALIENS. How many UFO come to EARTH in 2010 to 2012? Lots of them. People are not afraid of UFO transportation but aliens. So they want the kids to build something important.

    April 3, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • Allen

      ^^ Awesome... ^^

      April 3, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • Mythology is not healthy for children or other living things

      You may want stop breaking the pill in half and take the whole thing.

      April 3, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • Margaret

      In AZ people definitely fear aliens, especially the illegal ones coming over the southern border. I am not afraid, I just snap my fingers and I become invisible. I feel so much better since I got my shiny tin-foil hat.

      April 3, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  6. heywood Jablowme

    Will these words be replaced by Kardashian, Snookie , Jersey shore and Teen mother? I guess Imma and baby bump will now be included also. Have to keep it real, right? Lets get to the gist of what America is all about. Who needs this school nonsense? MTV should get the top honors for the dumbing down of America it seems that the dumber you are, the cooler you are.
    We are seconds away from becoming a third world country. Very sad

    April 3, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  7. Jay

    Seems time can be elastic so I wonder how that stacks up against evolution? Check it out for yourselves at http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2070438,00.html

    April 3, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • Steve

      I have elastic in my underwear. Same thing?

      April 3, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  8. PhillipJay

    I too am offended by the words "Halloween" and "television". Can't beleive people would every use such horrible words!!!!!!!!!

    April 3, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • Margaret

      I didn't know! I swear I didn't know Halloween was offensive, I will burn my Halloween T-shirt, and matching socks, except it's a no burn day, but now we don't have to worry about all that green stuff so I can start my fire.

      April 3, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  9. Olaf Big

    This is absurd, of course. Howoever, this is nothing more than taking to the extreme the same logic that says that education is not federal business, and it is up to the states to decide what and how to teach, as if math or geogaphy is any different in Alabama than in Alaska. So, instead of a small group of intelligent people who would develop a modern core curriculum for all american children, we have 50 separate anthills of ogre bureacrats and nincompoops in State Departments of Education who generate mounts of certifiable nonsense, while our children fall farther and farther behind their peers in other parts of the world.

    April 3, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • jimbo

      education should not be dictated at a federal or state level. it should be at the district and school and shold be argued for and against by the PARENTS of the students and the taxpayers that support these schools. no more fed or state money for schools either. if you live in the ghetto you might want to try home schooling. 1 crack rock + 3 crack rocks = 3 to 5 years etc.

      April 3, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  10. EvolveNow

    If we're banning certain words in NY schools' standardized testing, how about we add a few to the U.S. government also. Lets start with "lobyist(s)" and "super pac"!

    April 3, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • VoteNow

      Now that would be political correctness!

      April 3, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  11. 2/8

    I believe in God, but I also use common sense in accepting the fact that we have evolved, kind of, over many millions of years. Of course dinosaurs existed!!! Don't ban things like that, it's silly to even attempt.

    April 3, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • Taylor

      Then you need to learn more about God. The Bible does not support evolution in any manner. The Bible does include dinosaurs, however. Think about it, if the earth is billions of years old, and the sun burns away every year, how could the earth exist billions of years ago that close to the sun? Science is totally flawed, which is not unusual.

      April 3, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • TheWiz71

      @Taylor – see my comment below. Science and religion have two different (although complimentary) purposes. To believe that the first several chapters of Genesis are historical accounts first and foremost is to rob them of much of their meaning. Also, if one if a Christian, the whether or not the Genesis account of Creation is literally historical is not, by far, central to what we believe. But, it seems that so many of us think it is. Shame, really. As I say below – Jesus died to take away your sins, not your mind.

      April 3, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • Agnostic

      Twisting the already made up “facts” in the bible to fit one beliefs is nonsense. Let it go, it’s over.

      April 3, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • NPRJim

      Taylor-The bible doesn't comment on evolution AT ALL and your statement is absolute bunk. God never stated how long one of his "days" was and all you can do is assume that evolution didn't happen in that time frame. To read the bible literally and especailly the old testiment, is idiotic AND totaly against the tenants of Jesus who state that he was the "New Covenent" making the old testimant obsolete to begin with. You are not an expert.

      April 3, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • Allen

      Taylor, science hasn't failed – you have failed science. It's different.

      April 3, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • Agnostic

      Science is the practice of searching for facts before believing. Faith is the practice of believing even if it means dismissing facts.

      April 3, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
  12. Athiest > Fairy Tales

    Political correctness gone way too far. This is the world we live in, kids don't grow up to be intelligent adults by being shielded from harmless things like "birthday". They become so by learning as much as they can and then making their own, informed decisions.

    Grow up, world.

    April 3, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  13. Jay

    GAAH!! I'm being evolutionist Trolled and Verbally Beaten....I'm an American and protest! LOL

    April 3, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  14. J.C.

    For his birthday, instead of rock and rolling, the divorced dinosaur wanted to watch the movie "Halloween" on his television. The End

    April 3, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • PhillipJay

      How could you?! Don't you know those words are offensive! haha

      April 3, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • Margaret

      A + , Very well done, and thought out. Shows great progress.

      April 3, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  15. no God

    Many years in school. I remember standardized test in school.

    I learned there's no God after college. The government was "oh no... we hired wrong people." 2008. Stock market crashed.

    April 3, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • Taylor

      You learned there's no God? Who taught you that, your own disbelief?

      April 3, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  16. Mike

    I'm offended by being offended.

    April 3, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • J.C.

      How offensive. I am outraged.

      April 3, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • HellBent

      Your offense offends me.

      April 3, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • SmellWhat

      I'm getting an offensive whiff from your general dirrection!

      April 3, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
  17. GodsPeople

    I don't believe in standardized testing. There's no such thing as a standard child, or standardized learning curve. There's no such thing as standard intelligence or standard capability. Why the h–e–l–l are there standardized tests???

    April 3, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • GodPot

      There is such a thing as standard knowledge on any given subject that is a prerequisite to higher learning. Without the standard knowledge it's like trying to build a tower starting at the top floor...

      April 3, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  18. TheWiz71

    To all the atheists who think that all adherents of the 3 Abrahamic faiths are all ticked off about "dinosaurs" being removed as a word from these tests, and that we all think the earth (and all life on it) was created exactly as recorded in the Book of Genesis – you're wrong. To those fundamentalist whackos who believe exactly that – you're equally wrong. Classical Christianity (as opposed to the weirdo Southern Baptist stuff largely invented in the 19th Century) has never firmly believed in the historicity of the Genesis Creation story. Even in the 3rd Century, one of the great Church Fathers, Origen of Alexandria, declared that to believe that the Garden of Eden was an actual geographical place, and that Adam and Eve were actual historical persons was a ludicrous notion, and to believe it on that surface level actually robs the text itself of most of its meaning and significance. Sorry, but most of the Christians I know believe that Jesus came to take away our sins, not our minds. There is no inherent conflict between religion, as it has traditionally been practiced, and reason and scientific inquiry. They serve two different purposes, and answer different sets of questions. So, let the fundies get their shorts in a knot. I'll read my Bible and my Darwin at the same time, thanks.

    April 3, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • iamacamera1

      You have certainly lost your grip on reality and believe your little interpretation of it. What utter foolishness and nonsense you spout.

      April 3, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • TheWiz71

      I would take your criticism more seriously if you were actually specific about how I've "lost my grip on reality", and what exactly is nonsensical and foolish about what I've "spouted".

      April 3, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • pat

      I take it a step further, I don't believe in the supernatural.

      April 3, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • GodPot

      As an atheist I understand what you are saying and I don't believe that "All" Christians "do" anything since many are so confused as to their own belief systems it's hard even for them to make absolutes as to what they believe. However, many do make claims about their beliefs and about their book that are simply opinion and conjecture but they want to believe it so badly they threaten violence against those who doubt them, either in the form of direct action or the veiled threats that their deity will burn and torture those who don't believe "them" for eternity. It's against that backdrop that we have additional attacks made by some trying inject their opinions into schools and testing. Thats why the rest of us have to stand up and shout about it.

      April 3, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • Geoff

      Selective literalism- my favourite part of religion.

      April 3, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
    • docame

      Oh Wiz, poor, poor Wiz! You'll believe exactly what we tell you to believe and nothing more or less. Thanks for caring, though.

      April 4, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  19. Joe

    Their choice to ban those words has no legitimate reason to ban anyways. None of those words would have caused a heated debacle between church and state. Except for the use of God during the Pledge of America.

    April 3, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
  20. guest

    Then they should ban the word "holocaust" because some people claim that didn't happen either and might be offended (could you imagine doing that in NYC?). Can we as a society just get back to smacking kids when they do something stupid, telling them to go out and play (meaning, go be independent for a few hours with your friends), and expecting kids to deal with the realities of life?

    April 3, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.