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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. B. Russell

    well if New York kids were not stupid before this they would surely be if this went through.

    April 3, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
  2. Robert

    The words "SCHOOL" and "TEST" also conjured up strong negative feelings for me when I was young. Why didn't they try to ban those as well???

    April 3, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
  3. Conrad Shull

    " Nitwits" might call to mind New York's Department of Education.

    April 3, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  4. Bart

    I don't believe in the phenomenon of the wind. I want, heretofore, for it to be called "God Whispering".

    April 3, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • Declan

      Very funny. Good one.

      April 3, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • Tom

      I don't believe n God, therefore you have hurt my fellings and I demand the word be stricken from schools books.

      April 3, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
  5. Agnostic

    Telling children they will burn in hell for eternity if they don’t believe in Christ is unhealthy.

    April 3, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • anonymous

      Unless, of course, they actually will burn in hell, in which case it's healthy.

      April 3, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • JT

      Actually, that's child abuse.

      April 3, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • just sayin

      God is not willing that any should perish. In fact God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever should believe in Him (Jesus Christ) should not perish but have eternal life. God bless

      April 3, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
  6. Malcolmscott

    Holy Crap!! What is wrong with people. Why are we so worried about offending people. We don't have the right to not to be offended. We need to stop being so soft as a nation. Someone says something we don't like so we sue or cry about it. Come on! Grow up and get over it. The real world is tuff wear a cup.

    April 3, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • closet atheist

      Soft, new-age parenting. Not to sound like my own parents, but when we were out of line as kids, our parents whooped us. Kids these days get away with murder. And a fricking ribbon for last place. Oh, and supersize that, too. The list could go on. Love this country, but we have seriously derailed. We, as americans, our pretty arrogant to think that our status as #1 will last infinitely. All great empires eventually fall.

      April 3, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
  7. Snow

    Well, I for one, am glad that they are retracting this ban.. In fact, the list of banned words should only be limited to the curse words. School is a place of learning – and learning is not limited to a pre-screened pre-specified utopia style paradise of reality. Classroom offers an unbiased opportunity to show the child the right things from the wrong. Otherwise, the child will – over time – develop that understanding of those by themselves and it will most likely not be the correct. It would be influenced by the kind of experiences they have in real life (think of why they say a rich spoiled child does not know reality of life).

    So, the outlook on reality will be different for each child. That simple statement itself proves such an education system is flawed.

    April 3, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • Prayer changes things

      Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      April 3, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • Jesus

      "Prayer changes things"

      Prayer is a waste of time. 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 3:14 pm |
    • Seriously

      Censorship is not healthy for children and other living things.

      April 3, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Prayer changes things

      New York pulled the ban
      Something changed
      Could it be
      It was
      Prayer
      Let us get a national prayer back in the classrooms !

      April 3, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • COlady

      @Prayer: Funny, my children are very healthy. They also have a much greater respect for living creatures (not believing they "have dominion over" them) than many "religious" people I know. I would encourage you not to make negative, blanket statements about the belief systems of others, nor think yours is superior to them.

      April 3, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • Prayer changes things

      Do not censer the Word of God, let freedom ring !

      April 3, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • ama01

      "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things".

      Hmm. Which other living things? Things like trees? Things like apples? Things like koala bears?

      April 3, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • just sayin

      Everything. Atheism is a poison that afflicts everything. Especially Koalas. God bless

      April 3, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • just sayin

      I don't think God is better, I know God is better ! Sorry about your child abuse problem. God bless

      April 3, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "Everything. Atheism is a poison that afflicts everything."

      That's why religion has killed more people in human history, you are so full of shit.

      April 3, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • just sayin

      I'm on my knees with God a LOT. He is always filling me with his warm love, which is why I know He is soooo good.

      April 3, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • Snow

      Hang on.. prayer changed this? you mean you prayed that they pull a ban on the word "dinosaur"? Do you even understand why they decided to ban it in the first place?

      It makes you a liar, dude/dudette. you are claiming to pray for something you did not (and in fact got happy about).

      April 3, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • Upset in CA

      Jesus,

      There is nothing wrong with prayer – it may not be productive, but it is not, in itself harmful. The spamrific post you placed addressed when people ignore God answering their prayers by providing doctors and hospitials to heal their children. A total red herring.

      April 3, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • Snow

      Pascal's wager.. proved to be a bunk a thousand times.. and yet is being held on to by far too many like a koala on a tree

      April 3, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • just sayin

      @yeah right
      Atheists have murdered more people in the last hundred years than in all the preceding centuries. Joe Stalin murdered more than 24 million of his own people,not counting his war dead. Check your facts . God bless

      April 3, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • just sayin

      Just as information , there is more than one just sayin on this thread.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      @ just sayin
      Stalin didn’t kill in the name of Atheism. Check YOUR facts.

      April 9, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  8. Strange

    What word that is not banned on Standardized Tests?

    Stagflation, Inflation, hyperinflation, enthrocentrism, conquest, communism, capitalism, socialism, monopoly, oligopoly, Sherman act, jucha republic(north korea), gini coefficient, Keynesian, execution, democratic republic, civilization, conflict, protectionism, dominoes effect, Ronald Reagans' "Plunge Protection Team"....

    New Words will appear on test in 2012- 2090...

    Ninja Loans, troubled asset relief program, Subprime mortgage crisis, stimulus,Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, Term auction facility, Credit Crunch, Collateral, Perfect storm, Ponzi, many bush and obama words.

    Why kids have prepare for these words? Ask the Politicians, GOP, and FAT CATS. They screwed up wall street with Madoff, stanford, lehman brothers, real estate, lots of it.

    The next wall Street crash is coming. Yet. It is bigger than 1929, 1987, and 2008-2012. It's going to be "FIVE TIME" Stockmarket crash. Why five times? Because society is running out of ideas such as FUTURE NEWSPAPER, CAR GASOLINE, BOOKSTORE and LIBRARY BANKRUPTCY, etc. because kids see Ipad and iphone as the future.

    April 3, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Yakobi

      And here I thought it was Barney Frank to blame for failing to do his job–oversee and regulate the banks that were making the bad loans. Instead, he was on TV saying "there's nothing to worry about".

      April 3, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  9. Jokesterer

    Why did Adam give such confusing names for the dinosaurs? Bird, Cow, Dog, Goat, Pig, Sheep...Tyranosaurus Rex, Brontosaurus, Archeopteryx!

    April 3, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  10. MyTake

    There is hope for the US educational system ... common sense prevails!!!

    April 3, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • John

      at last!

      April 3, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
  11. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

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

      ~No it doesn't you are so full of crap and lies. 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 3:08 pm |
    • lunchbreaker

      I happen to be an athiest, but I still think Jesus' constant replying to a troll is way more sad than the troll posting.

      April 3, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • Pope Benedict

      Religion is the biggest scam in the history of the planet. It needs to be kept out of schools.

      April 3, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • Jack

      Then why does Scandinavia which has the highest percentage of Atheists also have the highest standard of living and lowest crime rates?

      April 3, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Pope Benedict

      Perhaps, I, Pope Benedict, should go to Scandanavia and "fix" things with my prayers!

      April 3, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • just sayin

      I would suspect that Jack has no first hand knowledge of Scandinavia and is merely parroting what it has read or heard. God bless

      April 3, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  12. David H

    Dog Cat Rat Pimp (sorry, too long a word) Obama There, that should work.

    April 3, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  13. Mark

    Who comes up with this stuff? I can't even fathom how disturbed you have to be to think that this should even be considered.

    April 3, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
  14. Olaf Big

    @Jimbo, come on! Parents who can't read bus schedule will argue and decide on school curriculum??? Sure, discussion on school education should be open to everybody, but someone needs to take the lead. And that should be a group of dedicated professionals at the national level.

    April 3, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • Walter

      I agree – as long as those officials are not government employees.

      April 3, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  15. UltraAtheist

    You're still allowed to put "If you believe in creationism you are a f-cking moron"

    April 3, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • NeutralMind

      Exactly my thought. Are there still people who believe dinosaurs didn't exist?

      April 3, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • mance lotter

      so where did it all begin genius? you're sure it's not God, then how did it all begin. Atheism is just a religion where you are your own prophet.

      April 3, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • HellBent

      "I dunno – god musta done it" is an intellectually lazy response. It didn't work for the ancients when trying to describe things like tides, it doesn't work here. "I'm not sure" is a far more honest and truthful answer than "musta been god". If god is a reasonable answer, than so is an invisible purple spotted unicorn named Alice.

      April 3, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • reason

      If you think atheism is a religion you should watch this:

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g6zGK-XblGA&w=640&h=360]

      April 3, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • your god is irreducibly complex

      Mance, you are implying that everything needs a creator. In that case, your "Creator" needs a creator as well. Circular logic is circular.

      April 3, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  16. W

    This is a total load of BS. I get not wanting to put kids of divorced families through more suffering (for example), but not wanting to offend Fundamentalists by using the word "dinosaur"? REALLY? When they keep their hands off of womens' reproductive systems then I'll give a hoot about not "offending" them by referring to things that actually existed.

    April 3, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  17. Degrin

    The word hamburger might upset animal rights activists. The word feast might upset people with eating disorders. The word disorder might upset people with OCD. You could eliminate almost every word in the english language using this method. It is self defeating.

    April 3, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
  18. Steve

    As a dinosaur, I'm offended that my kind were banned from books.

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

      Oh dear. I almost choked on my food reading that. Hahaha.

      April 3, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • lunchbreaker

      So if I am a human, dinosaurs and humans are exisitng together. Jurrasic Park or time travel?

      April 3, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
  19. akwolffan

    TheWiz71, m'man iamacamera1 is, simply, a troll. Possibly but not certainly a creationist troll.

    I went to Church schools from elementary all the way through University. In Uni they forced us to take classes on theology before they'd let us graduate. In high school we were next door to the cathedral and we had to go to every First Friday mass... everyone, no exceptions, no matter which religion you had or didn't have. None of the authorities at any of the schools I went to had anything good to say about literalism or creationism, and I first heard about Origen of Alexandria in Religious Knowledge class in high school. I learned more in two of the theology courses I had to take in university. You are absolutely correct about him, and about many, many, MANY others. And about where and when literalism first arrived.

    One of my university theology professors, a member of the Society of Jesus and so hardly an atheist (though I'm sure that the literalist loons will try to say that he is) was fond of saying that men wrote the Bible, but God wrote the rocks. If the rocks contain evidence that contradicts something in the Bible, then the Bible is wrong.

    I await the wailing and gnashing of teeth of the literalist loons.

    April 3, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • mike.g.hall

      smart man

      April 3, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • Rich

      I think that since you professor is a Jesuit and therefore a Catholic, more than one poster here would say he is not a Christian. And that he would be expected to have a sinful view of our origins.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  20. Jokesterer

    Maybe they should also ban Ostrich.

    April 3, 2012 at 2:54 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.