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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. tsmooth

    as a Christian Conservative...I find these actions by NY to be utterly stupid.

    April 11, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • The Obama Christian Church Worldwide Campaign

      This is the reason why we worship and praise our good christian president Obama and that Obama will be Lord of the world on October 21st of this year. We need to use Obama to restore the traditional dictates of our good Word Of God or the Bible. The Obama Administration will help us christians restore the good morals of christianity which is good. We need to learn the gospels of Obama and Christ to restore the good morals of the world.

      April 18, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  2. Martin

    the human species won't be here much longer. it is a mutated blight

    April 9, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
  3. JBBW

    Let's just make everyone stupid. Grrr

    April 9, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  4. Me

    Way to try to dumb down society... No wonder our school system is jacked and we have the lowest academic rates in the world for a modern society. How about this: Instead of trying to censor words based upon trying not to offend someone of a foreign background, try teaching kids the difference between the words "your" and "you're", "there", "they're", and "their." Remember, this is America. I don't give a crap that in whatever country you are from, or that your parents are from, that a word offends you. Try this in a European country and see what happens.

    April 9, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  5. John

    I have a novel idea, how about growing a spine.

    April 9, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  6. Clemdane

    I hope they don't have any questions with "peanuts" in them. Some kids are allergic and they may break out in hives at the mere mention of the word.

    April 9, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  7. Schizoid

    I don´t really undestand the proposal to ban the word "Dinosaur". Even if you take in count the wacky young-earth-creationist it doesnt make sense since they don´t really deny the past existence of those animals, there is even a creationist museum with replicas of dinosaurs.

    April 9, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  8. Jay

    Hey, for all the people who are believers on this blog please properly let the hateful people know that you have just as much right to believe as they do to not believe and that it IS a travesty that we let these same loudmouths trample on the rights of our chidren in public places and that THEY are the ones that are cramming their dogma down our throats!

    April 9, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • Primewonk

      Of course you have a right to believe in whatever gods you want.

      But you do not have a right to try and force those beliefs on others. You don't have a right to force students to listen to your religious myths and prayers in school. You do not have a right to try and force your mythology into our laws.

      April 9, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • Nonimus

      @Jay,
      I'm not certain who you are calling "hateful," but I don't see any trampling of rights by atheists/agnostics. Everyone is free to believe, or not believe, in whatever supernatural system they wish. They are also free, within reason, to practice that belief/religion whenever and where ever they like. ("within reason", meaning not interfering with other people's rights and/or safety)
      You seem to be claiming repression of or discrimination against you practicing your religion, do you have specific examples of this happening?

      April 9, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      @ Nonimus
      Jay is referring to the Christian belief that if you don’t push Christianity then you by default are persecuting it. The concept of neutral ground is beyond them.

      April 9, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  9. Ron Edde

    Yes, let's pander to every group who tries to explain away its deficiencies on test "bias". If some groups were more inclined to compel their youth to study rather than watching them join gangs, most of those kids would grow up with jobs instead of living in prison cells. But instead they push for getting rid of a few test questions that certain groups can't seem to answer (apparently they can't answer MOST of them) and assert that will solve the problem of their failure to score on an even basis. Pathetic.

    April 8, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  10. lazyace

    To Primework

    No, you are the one who we feel sorry for.

    April 8, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • Primewonk

      Why?

      Because I pointed out that we are not a christian nation? Because I pointed out that we are not a theocracy?

      April 9, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  11. Duke

    their argument is unrealistic. I can see the words 'apple pie' provoking unpleasant emotions in people who are allergic to any of the ingredients. Unless some word upsets, for good reason, a substantial number of people then don't ban it. In NYC, it is far more likely someone gets upset by 'Yankees' than 'Dinosaur'.

    April 8, 2012 at 10:40 am |
  12. Mark

    They ought to be fired. Normally I have little patience with the rabid right, but this time the looney left that goes, once again too far. Perhaps educators should be focusing on bringing the US back into the top 10 – from the 29th place it currently holds.

    April 8, 2012 at 8:10 am |
    • MLatino

      I can say that any test getting rid of the word dinosaur is a product of the radical right.

      April 8, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • northern light

      A good start for the US education system would be ......stop teaching "creationism".....or if you are going to reach
      creationism at least include a discussion as the pros and cons that the easter bunny is real.

      April 8, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  13. ThirteenthLetter

    Not good enough. Whoever came up with this idea and waved it through needs to be fired. The only reason this particular example of PC got blocked is because people found out about it. Leave the same people in place and they'll try again, just being a little more sneaky next time.

    April 7, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • lazyace

      Agreed!

      The whole thing is ludicrous

      April 8, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
  14. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things
    For the better
    Proven

    April 6, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • otto

      Talking to dead Elvis brings peace to all nations of the world.

      Just as Proven.

      April 6, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • darinart

      Talking to dead Mohammad and Michael Jackson brings peace to all nations of the world.

      Just as Proven.

      April 6, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
    • Jesus

      Your a proven liar. Prayer doesn’t not change 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 7, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • bloggerhater

      Those who have been brainwashed to believe other people's lies, lie to further their own delusional agendas.
      Proven.

      April 8, 2012 at 2:34 am |
    • Mark

      You lack any conclusive evidence to support your argument. Faith can be a beautiful thing – but it is faith not fact.

      April 8, 2012 at 8:05 am |
    • Duke

      Mocking religious dweebs improves things. for the better. proven.

      April 8, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • MLatino

      so you don't want your kids to know about dinosaurs?

      April 8, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • DDM

      Guess you would let your kids can go ahead and die because you choose prayer instead of life-saving action. If prayer worked there would be no problems left in this world by now. Prayer has already been tried by all faiths for thousands of years, yet we continue with plague, starvation, war, and probably our own extinction. What has been fixed by prayer?

      April 8, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • Rbnlegnd101

      If it's "proven" it's not faith. And, no, it's not proven. It may make you feel better, and that's great, but prayer is not a magical spell you can use to change the outcome of the superbowl. The best you can hope for is feeling better because of your faith, or a sense of fellowship from praying together.

      April 9, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • John

      Yeah that is in correct! Do a little more research on the power of prayer and it says over all it is really just a big waste of time. People die due to the power of prayer! If you are sick do not and i repeat do not rely on the power of prayer.Chances are you will die before or even your wish is granted. So rub that bible and wish cause thats all it is. Proven fact! So praise reality

      April 10, 2012 at 12:13 am |
  15. Jay

    Now all we need is for the educational system to put God back in we'll finaly be American again...it's so prejudice to omit such a large cross-section of our society (That being believers). I like them but don'e necessarily belive everything a catholic says or so on, but if they want to pray for a freind, or our country then that's their highest form of respect for caring (just like an aetheist sending a get well card). I think we Americans get too offended at the least little thing instead of doing what we can to accept and understand each other....we really need to get back to the heart of what America stands for...equality, and freedom.

    April 6, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • Primewonk

      We are not a christian nation. We are not a theocracy. Whatever your version of a god wants, needs, desires, or demands is irrelevant because your god (like all the other gods we've invented) have no standing in our laws.

      You are certainly free to pray all you want. But you will not put forced prayer (led by staff) in our schools. Sorry.

      April 6, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • J1

      Nope staff can pray too...but I agree they don't need to force everyone to pray with them, but it would be a nice gesture.

      April 6, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • Nonimus

      "...America stands for...equality, and freedom."
      That I agree with, but what does it have to do with God, or God in our schools?

      April 6, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • lunchbreaker

      If you actually research the major court cases that had prayer removed from schools, they were brought by Jews, Catholics and Mormons. Basically, thiests did not want other thiests telling their kids how to pray.

      April 6, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Primewonk

      @ J1 – you cannot have teacher led or staff led or administrator led prayer in public school.

      There are over 330,000 churches in America. Perhaps these students should be praying in theior churches and homes?

      April 6, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • Jack

      Maybe you'd also like baristas at staurbucks be recquired to solicit a prayer before I get my coffee. Why are Christians so determined to make thier faith public in as many aspects of thier life as possible. God in politics, God in school, God in the courtroom, God at work. Anywhere else you would like to insert God? I've got an idea, bend over. Practicing your faith does not recquire you to force it into every aspect of public life. How about stop being lazy and teach your own kids about faith.

      April 6, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • otto

      "we really need to get back to the heart of what America stands for...equality, and freedom."

      The equality of putting your god back in public schools, and the freedom to allow you to do it...

      So basically your arguement comes down to "if this country just followed my rules I could be free to impose my will, and if I can't impose my wiil I am being persecuted."........you are an asshat.

      April 6, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Actually, Jack, I wouldn't have any problem with Starbuck's requiring prayer, as it's not a government organization. I just wouldn't buy anything there.

      Although, legally, they would probably have to become a church and make their barista position a pastor/cleric position in order to limit hiring to those who would actually pray. (Which isn't far from the status of barista now, I guess.)

      April 6, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • bloggerhater

      Equality and freedom. You clearly have absolutely no idea what either of these words mean. Another fine example of someone brainwashed by the church.

      April 8, 2012 at 2:36 am |
    • Mark

      Apparently the separation of church and state is a concept Jay fails to grasp. Faith is lovely but to cram it down the throats of those who may not share your beliefs is patently wrong. As noted, there are literally hundreds of thousands of churches they can find to cultivate their faith.

      April 8, 2012 at 8:08 am |
    • DDM

      Pray in your mosque and at home. Otherwise you are free to pray SILENTLY 24/7. I don't share your beliefs and I doubt you want to listen to me preach mine aloud to you, since I would insist on equal time for mine.

      April 8, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • Jay

      To all those hateful aethists and agnostics on the blog...each of you needs to realize no one crams it down your throat except someone who is not doing it right. Point is that I can walk into my kids school library and find books on satanism, witchcraft, buddism, etc. but a bible isn't to be found...you tell me if that is prejudiced. No, it's time for us believers let all you unbelievers know that we have just as much right to be believer as you are not and that we are the majority like it or not.

      April 9, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • Nonimus

      @Jay,
      "Point is that I can walk into my kids school library and find books on satanism, witchcraft, buddism, etc. but a bible isn't to be found...you tell me if that is prejudiced."

      I don't know what school your kids attend, but I am not aware of any laws that would prohibit a Bible in a school's library. Furthermore, I would most likely disagree with any such law, as it is generally ridiculous to ban books from a school, excepting age inappropriate material when necessary.
      Similarly, there are no laws, that I'm aware of that prohibit prayer in school, provided, of course, it doesn't disrupt learning.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Rbnlegnd101

      It would be nice if the school staff could lead a public prayer. Perhaps a muslim prayer one week, and a wiccan one the next. Instead of a prayer, the Taoist teacher could do a reading from the tao te ching, or for younger kids, the tao of pooh. Are those the sort of prayers you are thinking of?

      Stop listening to people who are describing how they feel in their heart. Maybe your local library doesn't have a bible in their library, but mine does. I checked, they have several, and they have problems with them not being returned. When I was in high school they had several, I went there to do research more than once. I know, it's easier to accept someone else's story of outrage than to check reality. Let me guess, you believe that one about how california colleges don't teach US history too, right?

      April 9, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  16. Eric

    You're kidding me...right? There are REALLY people in this world that don't celebrate their own BIRTH day?!?! Okay. Sadness.....The gifts/cake/balloons....who cares....but, a BIRTH DAY.....is all about love.....loving your self and being alive...and those who brought you into this world loving you BACK! Dear "Witnesses....." I'm guessing you don't celebrate anyone's birthday.....OOOops.....but, by naming your religion after a PERSON who was BORN.........you've just honored them.......COME ON!

    April 6, 2012 at 1:36 am |
  17. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    April 5, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • Horror-chan

      I've been an atheist since the 6th grade. I don't steal, smoke, drink, or do drugs. I also know wrong from right. I volunteer to go to nursing homes and do door-bell dinners to the elderly in town. Does being atheist/religious make a person bad? No.

      If people want their children to grow up to responsible and moral they should start at home instead of leaving it to the schools. When people expect the schools to teach their children they either get upset and complain about because it doesn't fit their beliefs or values.

      April 5, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • otto

      Not for the better though....

      April 5, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • OrangeW3dge

      I can't help but notice that you post the same thing on just about every topic. Is this a real person posting or from a botnet?

      April 6, 2012 at 1:15 am |
    • Jay

      @Otto-That's because humans keep getting in the way.

      April 6, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • otto

      Jay,

      Humans get in the way of prayer? That is your excuse? Humans are the source of prayer but they are the reason prayer doesn't work. My god is all powerfull but those pesky humans keep thwarting his will.

      April 6, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • Jesus

      Prayer doesn’t not; 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 6, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • just sayin

      Being an atheist is the definition of bad. President George H W Bush said an atheist is not a patriot and should not be a citizen of America. We are one nation under God. Atheism is the opposite of everything America was founded on and erodes the entire moral fabric of the nation. God bless

      April 6, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • otto

      Just Sayin,

      I don't agree with you, but that does not make you evil, however your assertion that people like Pat Tillman (an atheist) that gave his life for this country should not be considered a citizen or a patriot makes you morally bankrupt.

      Oh and GFY (if you don't know what that means, figure it out).

      April 6, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • Kangaroo123

      Happy Easter to you – please enjoy your celebration about what you believe. Please respect my right to think that atheism is healthy for children and living things. About the topic, all of these things exist (you don't need to believe in them) so we should not shelter our children from the facts or concepts (meaning – maybe you don't believe in celebrating birthdays, but they do exist for others, so let's not pretent that they don't) of birthdays, dinosaurs, divorce, etc.

      April 8, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  18. Jay

    I am offended by every word in the eglish language...guess I'll learn another...wait...no, then I'll hate all them too! Crap, guess I'll have to accept english by default. People just need to stop the anger and hate toward each other. Glad the NY educators backed down...THANK GOD! Sorry if that last comment offends you...but not really.

    April 5, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • lazyace

      Not me!

      April 8, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
  19. Brian

    lets eliminate factual information from curriculum so that we may accomodate all the sensitive delusional people and their brainwashed children. our country is doomed.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  20. François

    I'm a left-wing liberal and I think members of the NYC Department of Education have lost their minds. It'd disgusting that they wasted any time censoring a freaking spelling test!

    You may be atheist, but you still want your kids to know how to spell "religion" because it's something that they're going to be exposed to for the rest of their lives. You may be a zealot, but you still want your kids to know how to spell "Halloween" for the same reason!

    The only thing the DOE would have accomplished is sending a generation out into the world with worse spelling skills than the one before it. Teaching a boy how to spell "Christmas" isn't going to make him a Christian any more than teach a girl how to spell "punish" is going to turn her into a black leather sadomasochism Mistress!

    How do people lacking such basic common sense get into positions of power and authority? Oh yeah – politics, which has nothing to do with common sense. Just ask the Wicked Witch of Delaware!

    April 5, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • lazyace

      Right on!

      April 8, 2012 at 9:36 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.