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. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    April 3, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • lol

      yeah they save 1/1000 people, and the other 999 should just go screw themselves

      April 3, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • VinoBianco

      no thanks, i prefer living for today, and here on earth.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • just sayin

      Even refuting it atheists are drawn to God's Truth like moths to a flame. God bless

      April 3, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  2. blah

    wait a minute... i can see religion, but dinosaur? THEY EXIST, THERE IS PROOF OF THIS... HOW CAN ANYONE DISPUTE THAT? Oh yes, the devil planted those bones there to lead christians astray.... riiiight...that's what happened. nevermind.

    April 3, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • VinoBianco

      there's also proof of evolution, global warming, and that religion is destructive, but nobody seems to care.

      god is an imaginary friend for grown ups.

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

      ...and ignorant people like you and the people driving this grossly misled agenda assume that Christians do not believe that dinosaurs exist. Dinosaurs and creationism are highly compatible.

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

      Thank you, SteveO- and, Vino, saying, matter of fact that God doesn't exist is as much a 'belief' as being a theist. I've been a happy Christian/Evolutionist for two decades. They are compatible and I believe should be..

      April 3, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • lol

      yeah not believing in god is a "belief"........ just like not collecting stamps is a hobby

      April 3, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
  3. lunchbreaker

    Why are some people so concerned about words? Now sticks and stones, those are nothing but trouble.

    April 3, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
  4. VinoBianco

    i think we should stop being polite and start valuing education over offending people. seriously, if you don't like what schools are teaching either don't have kids or homeschool your children like mr. santorum. this is not the puritanical days of witch hunts, or even the 50's where 'rock n' roll' is considered 'vulgar.'

    good morning world, and welcome to the 21st century.

    April 3, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
  5. lol

    there isn't a "controversy" around evolution, there are simply crazy people who think a book written during the bronze age is more accurate than modern science

    April 3, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • just sayin

      evolution remains an unproven theory

      April 3, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • lol

      yeah just like gravity, or the shape of the earth

      April 3, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • just sayin

      Gravity is a law.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • FSM

      Evolution is not just an off-the-cuff idea someone came up with. Folks who say it's just a theory obviously don't even know what a scientific theory is.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • lol

      i don't think you have a grasp on the laws of science

      April 3, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • todd in DC

      Sigh. In science, theory doesn't equal unproven. Theory means open for further research. Every last step in evolution has not been mapped out yet, but enough facts have been confirmed to prove that the basic idea of evolution is correct.

      Homeschooling is not your friend.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • Primewonk

      "Gravity is a law."

      There are laws like Newton's Law of Gravitational Attraction. In science, a law is a mathematical construct that allows you to make a calculation. Newton's law F=G(m1*m2)/r^2 lets you calculate a force of attraction between 2 bodies with mass at a distance. But that formula does absolutely nothing to explain why mass attracts mass. For that you need the theory of gravity.

      I wonder why you didn't know this?

      April 3, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • just sayin

      Evolution is not a law, and without the missing link's, evolution remains an unproven theory.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • lol


      April 3, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      I don't know why anyone really replies to just sayin anymore. He will never listen, and will continue to say the same things over and over and over and over. Trying to explain the difference between a theory in terms of everday use and scientific use is like trying to part your molecules to go through a solid steel door. Can't be done.

      April 3, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • Rich

      Lucky for just saying, people who work at the carryout don't need to understand things like evolution. I get a kick out of it when people willing show their ignorance by saying that a scientific theory is a wild a$$ guess.

      God may or may not have used evolution to get us where we are right now. But if he didn't, it's not because scientists chose the word "theory" to describe a set of principles that explain and predict phenomena.

      April 4, 2012 at 7:49 am |
  6. guest

    Why remove specific words? By removing words from the education system, you are robbing people of their right to get an education.
    What is a birthday? The day in which a person was born. just because I know the word doesn't mean I have a celebration.
    What is divorce? The separation of two people who chose to no longer co-habitat.
    What about the word 'religion'? Can you truly give a meaning to this word that excludes someone. Even the lack of belief in god could be considered by some a 'religion'.
    If we try to remove all words that 'might' offend someone, you might as well remove the entire dictionary.

    April 3, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  7. tigrr

    This was some sort of restrictive nazism. What side of the fence is Bloomberg playing on?
    Already US is brain-drained on certain words, like: Conspiracy, cult, etc. Mention either and the speaker is immediately discredited....
    Meanwhile: Remember what Gen/ Preident Eisenhower said: "The greatest conspiracy is that there are no conspiracies." How %$#@ are American's thinking already??

    April 3, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
  8. Blake

    Good to see parents and government are spending their time wisely

    April 3, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
  9. jj

    Children learn a lot more if you don't censor their reading. They read the 900 page Harry Potter books just fine, complete with the name Hermoine.

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

      Except possibly they spelled it correctly ;-). Hermione.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  10. jeff

    Human beings are now officially no longer the most intelligent species on the planet

    April 3, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  11. Ned Flanders

    If being polite is old fashioned, then just call me a caveman... if they existed... which they didn't.

    April 3, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • VinoBianco

      what? dinosaurs?

      April 3, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • VinoBianco

      oh you mean cavemen? yes, they existed; or more properly, neanderthals.

      if you think being polite is more important than education, call me rude. at least i'll know something.

      April 3, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • Rob

      You are the caveman. Get a clue.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  12. ItSOnLyME

    I think we should ban the word "ban".

    April 3, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  13. VinoBianco

    this is obscene. if parents want to teach their kids that dinosaurs didn't exist, they should have their kids taken away from them. how are schools going to teach about dinosaurs and evolution now?? these are scientific FACT they're just going to eliminate from the curriculum!? If you're that extreme, home school your kids for christ's sake. oh sorry, did that offend you?


    April 3, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • ItSOnLyME

      Did you read the story? They were going to ban the word, but they've changed their tune. Dinosaurs are here to stay (so to speak).

      April 3, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • Mark

      Evolution isn't a FACT.

      Read a book....

      April 3, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • Babs

      Thank you. I'm tired of parents from the dark ages telling educators what the teach.
      Take them home and fill their little heads with all the nonsense you want.

      April 3, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • VinoBianco

      the mere thought that they were considering this ban is amazing. it's puritanical.

      April 3, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • fearisenemy

      Is the bible filled with facts?

      April 3, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • Primewonk

      Sorry Mark, but you again are wrong (again? still?) Evolution, like gravity, is both fact and theory. The fact that you don't know this shows the depths of your ignorance.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • Mark


      No, let's let the schools stick to teaching the nonsense. They're good at it. At home, we'll stick to the truth. Like...

      Water doesn't flow uphill.
      Heat doesn't flow from cold to hot
      Order doesn't come from chaos spontaneously.

      You know, all things that would have to be true IF evolution was anything but a giant hoax.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • HellBent

      Mark, thanks for illustrating that you have NO CLUE what the second law of thermodynamics actually states. (Hint: the reason why it's compatible with evolutionary theory is that the earth isn't a closed system). I hope that you're not actually educating people with such horrifically bad basic science.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • onepercenter

      I think Mark is missing a chromosome.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • Paul

      Sadly, there are many in the fundamentalist extreme who believe that the bones of dinosaurs were "planted by Satan" to "confuse the people". This always angered me. I am a Christian but I am also an evolutionist. I don't know why the two don't work, considering the "seven day creation" describes evolution simply, but correctly...

      April 3, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • Primewonk

      Mark, again, why don't you fundiots publish your research in peer-reviewed scientific journals?

      April 3, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • Rob

      Yea, Mark, read a book on it. If you did, you'd see that you are an idiot.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • Paul

      ...and Mark, evolution is fact. It's so very sad the amount of people out there who have been taught otherwise.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  14. furbs

    (2 dinosaurs X 6 televisions)/ 3 religions = 4 divorces Gotta protect those kids!

    April 3, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
  15. Rob

    Woe how dumb are these people in New York?

    April 3, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • ToddT

      Not as dumb as they're going to be in 4-6 years!

      April 3, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • IranDestroyed

      Its not just New York its the entire public education system in the united states. The most money poured down the drain in the history of man. The wasted funds go to an administratively top heavy nation wide wasteful bureaucracy that has very little to do with education and more to do with self aggrandizement.

      April 3, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  16. romaine

    We are willing to tell a child with cancer that they cannot get proper treatment because insurance is denied for preexisting illnesses, but we'd better not talk to them about birthdays and dinosaurs in case that's too "controversial".

    April 3, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • Snow

      That makes total sense now.. doesn't it..

      *for the uninitiated, sarcasm..

      April 3, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  17. Common Sense

    I am *so* offended by the word "dinosaur". Almost as much as the word "religion". And "Christmas"

    April 3, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
  18. Blindly Faithful

    What would the Flying Spaghetti Monster do? (WWFSMD)

    April 3, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  19. Rei

    Why they do not teach tolerance? instead of learn to feel discriminated (inferiority complex), why not teaching that everybody is different and that is fine? Why teaching to feel aggravated because of his "birthday"?

    Teaching to have an smaller, less tolerant brain is what I see is happening.

    April 3, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • MAC

      @Rei, I could not agree more.

      April 3, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • mommadukes

      definitely right about that! no wonder we have so much hate in this country

      April 3, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  20. jesus

    I told you all those fossils were bogus!!!!!!

    April 3, 2012 at 3:40 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.