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. Nonimus

    "Halloween is a pagan religios rite that celebrates the rise of the living ded and the correlated practice of bestiality and consumption of children."

    Instructions: Identify all spelling errors in the above sentence.

    April 3, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • fred

      I dont sea any?

      April 3, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
  2. Operaman

    If you're thinking of banning the word "dinosaur," you might as well just ban the word "science."

    April 3, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • just sayin

      Ban science. Praise Jesus!

      April 3, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Nonimus

      "Dinosaurs of the pre-flood era coexisted with the humans of that time."

      Instructions: Insert commas correctly in the previous sentence.

      April 3, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • The Guy

      I still can't believe there are people who can't comprehend the existence of dinosaurs. Bones and oil, people. You're driving to the Smithsonian to see Barney's bones and doing so with the remains of Baby Bop.

      April 3, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • fred

      "Dinosaurs, of the pre-flood era, coexisted with the humans of that time."

      April 3, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  3. just sayin

    This is so foolish because any true Christian knows dinosaurs walked the Earth with Adam. Adam named all the animals. God Bless

    April 3, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "This is so foolish because any true Christian knows dinosaurs walked the Earth with Adam. Adam named all the animals. "

      LMAO! That's why we keep finding more fossils of animals we didn't know existed and naming them, it had nothing to do with your mythical book. LOL! Keep showing the world your stupidity.

      April 3, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • just sayin

      Foolish non believer, Adam named them...meaning God knows the true name of all animals.

      April 3, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "Foolish non believer, Adam named them...meaning God knows the true name of all animals."

      That's why they are still being named today. Keep showing why your cult is so bad for our society.

      April 3, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  4. Nonimus

    Can anyone tell me whether it is more correct to say,
    "Women are too stupid to compete in the modern world."

    "Women ain't smart enough to compete in the modern world."

    April 3, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  5. D

    I'm a teacher and I am challenged by this daily. So forms of so called "political correctness" are good. Others go too far. When we study the middle east, it is important to study the main religions of the middle east. Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Obviously we spend a good amount of time on Islam. In those lessons, as with lessons of the others, I tend to stay away from the things that would be miss-understood...such as what muslims believe about Jesus. I usually stick to pretty dull explanations of beliefs and stick to the dry historical dates. I think this does some disservice to the students, but I'm afraid most of the time to go into more detail.

    April 3, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • Heinz Doofenshmirtz

      So now "available knowledge" is limited to what another student may find offensive? You are not a teacher. You are a machine.

      April 3, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  6. Alex

    There is some logic to this, but it shouldn't have to be REGULATED. That's the lunacy of stuff like this. People don't get that it's not the role of government to preside over every little thing!!!!! The test makers should know how to avoid biases on their tests, in the interest of having the best test possible! We don't need the government to do it for them. We don't need the government to do 90% of the things it's doing. This is ridiculous. Everywhere you look it's just mountains of red-tape for no reason. I often find myself paying $10K in accounting or legal bills to comply with regulations that cost maybe half that. But, because it's a crime not to comply, and the red tape is too insanely complicated for any non-expert to do it by themselves, you have to pay a specialist. How is this efficient? I've worked in 3 distinct industries, and it's the same government lunacy with regard to regulations everywhere you look.

    April 3, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Heinz Doofenshmirtz

      I understand what you are trying to say Alex but I don't even see the logic. Dinosaurs existed. Therefore the word is relevant. Birthdays are real even if you do not celebrate them. Being offended because a word appears on a test is clearly that persons problem. But yes, agree totally on your government control points.

      April 3, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  7. GodsPeople

    Lost the comment so going to say it again...

    I don't believe in standardized testing. There's no such thing as a standardized child, standardized learning curve, standardized intellect, standardized capabilities... so why do we have standardized tests? I took them in school and breezed through them without bothering to study, typically setting the curve (usually at 0-2) when there was an option for a curve. They measure NOTHING.

    April 3, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  8. Steve

    Seriously. You'd expect this kind of stupidity from someplace in Georgia or Arkansas...but New York???


    April 3, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • GodsPeople

      The more liberal a state is, the more stupidity I expect.

      April 3, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      What's even more sad is that we can expect this from anywhere in the U.S.

      April 3, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • GodsPeople

      Mainly because people buy into the liberal political correctness garbage. Me, not so much. Not that I try to offend people, it's just a gift.

      April 3, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • Matthew

      Actually, you have it completely backward. Arkansas or Georgia is where you would never ever find something ridiculous like this. In those places, people rely on old-fashioned common sense. Only in places like New York or California, basically the places where people are "enlightened," would you find people actually taking trash such as this seriously.

      April 3, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  9. Alexandra Daniele

    Maybe they should ban the word "test" altogether- might offend or freak out those who are poor test-takers.

    April 3, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Bi.tch, go get me a beer and cook my food!

      Instructions: Identify the subject and verb in the previous sentence.

      April 3, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • D

      my students would prefer to ban tests all together. lol

      April 3, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  10. straitsight

    Funny those words have been around for as long as I can remember and I don't recall anyone being offended by them. The big issue is if you avoid the things in life that may offend you, how are you going to deal with real life? What person in this world said life was going to be easy? Sometimes things don't go the way you like, look at the current state of politics, that is offensive, get rid of them all and start over.

    April 3, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  11. Matthew

    Uh, yeah, the reason I can't do simple arithmetic or write a grammatically correct sentence in the English language is because I was offended by thoughts of celebrating a dinosaur's birthday while listening to rock 'n roll music with my divorced parents. Yeah, that's it. So, in conclusion, the fact that my test scores suggest that I am as dumb as a sack of rocks is definitely an artifact of these offensive, biased tests of rudimentary skills. Yeah, that sounds about right. Sure, I could study more, do my homework, and generally act like I give a cr@p about my education, but then where would I find the time to play the victim and sue the board of education for exposing me to such offensive, denigrating material?

    April 3, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  12. Mike

    Oh the United states Jesus Land 🙂

    Always something new to make me laugh.

    April 3, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  13. Emitr

    It's interesting to see a case of political correctness that favors religious fundamentalists. They usually disparage political correctness, as though it were inherently left-leaning. But political correctness knows no ideological boundaries. For example, it's not politically correct in some circles to express disbelief in God, or to express belief in God, or to defend embryonic abortion, or to oppose late-term abortion. Political correctness is inherent to the social cohesion of all ideologies.

    April 3, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • David

      well said.

      April 3, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  14. Dan

    Avoid the word "milk" so you don't stress those who are lactose intolerant, and avoid the word "nuts" for those with peanut allergies. Of course the whole idea was nuts so it's more difficult to avoid references to nuts. Please, you'd have to ban EVERY word in the English language if you think hard enough about a situation where someone will possibly be distressed by its use. For that matter, don't even use the English language, since that may distress those who have English as a second language.

    April 3, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Although, one might at least try to eliminate the low hanging "strange fruit".

      April 3, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  15. Tom

    If you get that flustered and distracted your probally an idiot anyway, way to teach kids to be intolerant and sheltered.

    April 3, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  16. Anthony

    They should also add 'Table' to the list because tables are made of wood, and environmentalists might get upset. They should ban 'Pencil' because pencils used to contain lead, and lead can cause cancer which may scare children. They should ban 'coffee' because coffee contains caffeine and mormon's don't drink caffeine. They should ban 'calendar' because christians, mayans, jews etc. all have different calendars, and we don't want to offend them. They should ban 'telephone' because amish people don't use them, and amish people may be offended. They should ban.....

    April 3, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • Rachel


      April 3, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  17. nyc rich

    As long as they keep the word stupid in.

    April 3, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  18. Observer

    Weak of them to cave in over a weak reaction to such a picayune policy.

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

      It doesn't surprise me. It's hard to have a spine when you are concerned about offending people with the word birthday or dinosaur.

      April 3, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Nonimus


      April 3, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

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

      Not for the better sadly.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • just sayin

      Always for the better. God bless

      April 3, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • Ron

      Trolling does not change anything.

      April 3, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Tim

      I answer my kids' questions with the truth, not fantasy. And what other living things? Dogs? Cats? Cows? Slugs? Dung beetles?

      April 3, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Mark O'Brien

      Yeah. Dogs are really suffering under their atheism.

      April 3, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • Pedro

      Atheism is the only healthy choice for children. Religion is child abuse.

      April 3, 2012 at 5:35 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 5:56 pm |
  20. Rosie

    This is why ANYONE in private industry derides those people in the public sector [schools in particular] for making decisions that are silly, meaningless and waste time and money. Those who can do, those who can't teach.

    April 3, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • William Demuth

      So sad but true.

      Living on taxes is an easy life.

      Makes their minds soft.

      April 3, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
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