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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. Hannah

    Unbelievable. Just unbelievable. How soft have we become? We're now raising a generation of mollycoddled wimps who think they have the right never to be "offended," never to be "upset," never to hear one blessed thing that might disrupt their rosy little worldview. Horse-Hockey!!! I call this the "Barney Generation." They come to job interviews in flip-flops, nursing a Starbucks and checking their cellphones every 5 minutes and about the most coherent question they have for a prospective employer is "How much vacation time do I get?" Then, if and when they do land a job, they whine that they feel "disrespected" when the boss tells them their work needs a bit more polish or they need to stay late. The PC Police have forever ruined this nation and it's high time we stop pandering to them.

    April 3, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • Josef Bleaux

      Absolutely. Well said.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • Mark O'Brien

      And you hire people from your trailer park?

      April 3, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  2. Akira

    The fact that they considered banning words that offend creationists in the first place is absurd, why should we need to accommodate the ignorant?

    April 3, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  3. Josef Bleaux

    Who cares if "Dinosaur" upsets a few nitwit fundamentalists. They deserve to be upset for being so stupid.

    April 3, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • just sayin

      Try reading the article. The DOE was the party responsible for the idea. God bless

      April 3, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • Josef Bleaux

      I did read the article, moron. Seems you missed the point.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
  4. drpetersutphen

    I am offended by the article "the". What is a "the"? Have you ever seen a "the"? Exactly! The use of the article "the" encourages the belief in spirits which leads to astrology and re-electing that Muslim terrorist Obama. Sarah Palin can explain all this to you dumb liberals!

    April 3, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • cacarr

      "I am offended by the article 'the'. What is a 'the'? Have you ever seen a 'the'? Exactly! The use of the article 'the' encourages the belief in spirits which leads to astrology and re-electing that Muslim terrorist Obama."

      True. But what of the indefinite article "a" and its awful allomorph "an?"

      April 3, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • t3chsupport

      You should watch your language, cacarr, this is an all-ages board, and I will not have my child exposed to dangerous ideas like your 'a' and 'an'. There should be a law!

      April 3, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  5. VonDoom

    I find it absurd that people want scientific principals and terms left out of the education process then complain when they hear how American students and academically behind the rest of the world. To me, this proves evolution in a nutshell when people are begging for "de-evolution".

    April 3, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • VonDoom

      Sorry, "are" academically behind. Nothing proves how correct religious nuts are than being able to find fault in a blog.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  6. Question

    Anyone konw is Mayor Bloomberg is a member of illuminati

    April 3, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  7. Scott

    On my standardized tests in high school, we had to know how far a train was going to travel in a certain amount of time. But someone I knew once almost got hit by a train, so I think they should take any form of transportation off standardized tests...

    April 3, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • FauxNews

      I knew someone who had a heart attack during a test, so we should ban tests.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Pete

      Good one Scott. In one of my tests, I was asked to "Find X". They didn't accept the answer with the arrow "Here it is"

      April 3, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • drpetersutphen

      Ha ha! There's no end in sight for this!

      April 3, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • Henk V

      I failed my test. That made me feel bad. Tests therefore should be banned. Then, when I am 18 and 'graduating' from high school I have a great self-esteem. The fact that I will be a POS for the rest of my life after that of course is irrelevant, as long as I vote as expected.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  8. trek820

    Mayor Bloomberg, looks like it's time for employee evaluations.

    April 3, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  9. Kristen

    So... people don't believe in the once-existence of dinosaurs now? I'm pretty sure there's irrefutable proof of them.

    April 3, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • Lola

      I don't know what they were getting at. I know a fundie who believes the each is only 4000-6000 years old, and she believes in dinosaurs...she just believes they um, were here at the same time as humans.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • Margaret

      Dinosaurs bones were put around the earth by the devil, it was to confuse us and make us turn away from God. At least that is what one goofball said to my husband, while explaining that everything in the Bible was fact as written. Okay 🙂

      April 3, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  10. Dan

    Brought to you by the same folks that persecuted Galileo for suggesting that the earth was not the center of the universe.

    April 3, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
  11. dbrock010

    Just think how biased these tests would be if they used words like: Normal, strait, family of four, baseball, hotdogs, Pledge of Allegiance, blue collar, and home. Please don't use these words on our children, as I think they would bias your test results.

    April 3, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
  12. Goodnews

    I figured out NYC motive : first seeds planted to ban free speech

    April 3, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • basketcase

      Great job! Now, quickly, get your tin foil hat back on!

      April 3, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
  13. enkephalin07

    I don't see what the big deal is. Banning these words may seem backward, but standardized tests shouldn't discriminate - let the backward get tested, too.

    April 3, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Dan

      Sorry, you are wrong. The test should discriminate between those that are knowledgeable and those that are not.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • Leif

      In a country that values free speech, banning words like "dinosaur" sends a pretty inconsistent message.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  14. Goodnews

    This ban seems "FISHY" but I can't figure out their motive

    April 3, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
  15. bxgrrl

    This should be the lead in story for all newscasts today: Rare Triumph for Common Sense!

    April 3, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  16. FSM

    And I thought it was just the stupid people in Oklahoma who don't believe in dinosaurs or evolution.

    April 3, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • SteveO

      People who believe in creation actually do believe in dinosaurs, they even believe in adaptation, it's the evolving from one species to another with which they contend. Deleting 'dinosaur' from the test in order to avoid offending creationists was based on ignorant assumptions like yours.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • notrocktsci

      Good one, sir! And us Oklahomans still live in teepees and hunt our food with sharpened sticks. I'm actually typing this reply out on a piece of stone with a chisel.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • MrHanson

      Wow where have I heard that one. Are libtards running out of pages to write in their playbook?

      April 3, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • Margaret

      I read it was Alabama and Mississippi. Have you heard the latest tin-foil hat idea from AZ legislature, they want to ban any green ideas coming from the federal government or the United Nations. Maybe N.Y. should put the color green on the no-no list?

      April 3, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  17. Jeff

    Wow. What Moron thought this up?
    What's that you say, it was a group that decided to ban those words?
    There is no intelligent life left in NYC.

    April 3, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • Margaret

      Why limit it to N.Y.? I am having my doubts about the whole world.

      April 3, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  18. jack johnson

    Another case of the religious people trying to censor everyone elses beliefs, for fear someone might have to make up their own mind. Did the try to ban God, Jesus. The vergin Mary, and Hell.

    April 3, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • libtard

      The state banning certain words has nothing to do with religion. Also, please use spell check before trying to express your very left leaning, pea brain opinions.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • SteveO

      This decision was not brought up by the religious people because the religious people actually believe in dinosaurs, it was based on ignorant assumptions about what creationists believe.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • FauxNews

      to libtard, jack has the right to believe Mary was a "vergin" 😉

      April 3, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • Jacques Strappe, World Famous French Ball Carrier

      I've had people tell me that dinosaur bones were put there by Satan to deceive us so there are creationists who believe that dinosaurs weren't real.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  19. Saljeebi Kwowk

    I guess some educational professionals are so up in the ivory tower they can't see the real world

    There are authoritarian liberals AND authoritarian conservatives. Both may need to be made to become boyfriend and girlfriend

    April 3, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  20. newyorkah

    I always find "issues" (wink) like this laughable because, it's usually a problem ONLY for:
    -the ignorant
    -the fascists
    -the bigots
    -the below 70 IQ crowd
    -those thinking of running for public office
    Knowledge and information is NOT what we should STILL be running from.
    Anytime you want to know why America can't – CAN'T in a FREE public school system graduate more than 75% of eligible students and LAGS around 38th intellectually versus their counterparts in the rest of the developed world, it POINT directly to stuff like this!

    My kids grew up and wer schooled in these as well as very "naughty" politically INCORRECT words so they knew when a bigot had targeted them, or how the origins and seeds of hate germinate (because the bigots don't always know, you know)

    And yeah, they went to public and private schools, from kinder thru college. Yea education and "WORDS"!

    April 3, 2012 at 4:07 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.