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. adam

    we should also ban the words vegtables and fruit. we wouldn't fat kids to get mad because they have to think about healthy food.

    April 3, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
  2. Ohplease

    "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."

    This because Jehovah's witness did not ask for special treatment. They do not engage in this type of behavior. This was a "do gooder" thinking they need to protect children from the realities of life. This IS NOT what Jehovah's witness parents do! JW children know all about bday parties and why they do not partake. They have other parties for many reasons... Save the PC for those who demand it JW have thick skin and so do their children.

    April 3, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
  3. jesus_the_gardener


    April 3, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • turnip truck driver


      April 3, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
    • flying spaghetti monster


      April 3, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • orangutan


      April 3, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • orangutan

      and i should remind you that, evolution is just a theory, like gravity or the shape of the earth

      April 3, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • creatureism


      April 3, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • creatureism


      April 3, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
  4. Kana

    Ban the NYC Board of education, they are offensive.

    April 3, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
  5. Jeni Wang

    Good for the NY Dept. of Education! Just because one doesn't celebrate Christmas, doesn't mean one shouldn't have to know what it is. Just because one doesn't believe in evolution, doesn't mean one shouldn't have to know about dinosaurs. I don't care if you're conservative or liberal, too much censoring of either side just breeds ignorance. Plain and simple.

    April 3, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  6. Ay Caramba

    Damned conservatives and their evil ways to force their damned religion on us.

    April 3, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • sonic10158

      damned atheists and their damned oversensitivity.

      Atheists are way too shallow-minded and whiny. Grow up

      April 3, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      It's not just conservatives. Liberal theists can be all sorts of annoying.

      April 3, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      Proof? Two words: Jimmy Carter

      April 3, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  7. johnfrichardson

    Every once in a great while, bureaucrats can be publicly shamed into reversing course. Be glad for it when it happens.

    April 3, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
  8. Jay


    April 3, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  9. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    April 3, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • Dave 666

      Really??? Science changes things, thought and development changes things, an appreciation for the world and how it eveolved changes things. Prayer is just a relic from a thousand years ago and to me it simply keeps things the same as they have always been under a fanatical religious umbrella. Pray all you want...but it won't change one thing!

      April 3, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Jay

      Prayer helps me deal with evolutionist boneheads....just sayin'

      April 3, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • Mister Jones

      Atheism is bad for lichen, dust mites and the herpes virus? ... How do you figure?

      April 3, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      Yes, Jay, you pray that the facts are other than what they are and that makes you feel better ... for awhile.

      April 3, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • Jay

      Awww...guess human intelligence alsways changes things for the better....hey wait, I wanted peace, prosperity, fairness...crap HEY which one of you dudes screwed that up?!

      April 3, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      NOTHING "always changes things for the better", you witless wonder.

      April 3, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • Jay

      Ah, the truth is finally evident...us humans are screw ups at heart....thus why I must believe in God! I truely am witless when comparted to the wonder of creation!

      April 3, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • Mister Jones

      @Jay – Talking to yourself, or to the ether helps you "deal" with people who use a scientific process to explain the myriad of diversity found in the biological sphere of existence? Interesting. ... We just tune you out.

      April 3, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • Mister Jones

      @Jay – Sorry, the world isn't fair. Never has been, never will be. I don't care what your book says, or more importantly, what you THINK it says.

      April 3, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      Jay, you are witless, period. Humans screw a lot up. Look at such nasty human inventions as Christianity, for instance. But they get a lot right. Consider, for instance, Charles Darwin's absolutely brilliant detective work in piecing together the true outline of our prehistory.

      April 3, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • Jay

      Ah well, I guess I should say that I think science is good, but where you get off thinking it trumps any other explanation is really an indication that you are in a state of stubborness. You take yourself way to serious as well as think your "science" is a god unto itself....have fun trying to convince someone less educated. I really have no idea how anyone would think even a single strand of DNA mistakenly appeared by interfacing with liquids...let alone all the lies evolutionists/Darwinists tried to throw at society to cover up all the flaws and lies they constantly try to support with more theories and made up suppositions. We'll all find out the truth sooner or later.

      April 3, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • just sayin

      God gave science to mankind through prayer. God bless

      April 3, 2012 at 8:20 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 9:38 pm |
  10. Kevin H

    Test items by their nature should be free of bias and prejudice simply because the test items can be distracting and can caused skewed results. Anything that causes a statistical skew can be an issue. Honestly though – why doesn't the city of NY use standardized tests that have stood the test of time. There are certainly enough good instruments out there. Were I a resident of NYC I would want to know why funds were being spent recreating the wheel instead of using a wheel that's already been created. That should be the real question. It's about appropriateness of instrument to task.

    April 3, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Excellent question. If such tools already exist, why aren't they using them?

      April 3, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      By what objective measure of bias and prejudice do you propose to defend your assertion?

      April 3, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • Nonimus

      This is over simplified, but I would think that if there was a statistically significant change in the scores of certain groups of people only when certain words were used, one could infer that those words were causing a "distraction" to a certain group. (this would have to account for other factors, of course. e.g. misleading the reader, cultural misinterpretations, changing the meaning of the sentence, etc.)

      April 4, 2012 at 9:38 am |
  11. Nonimus

    A dinosaur traveling west at 8 miles/hours meets a human traveling at 5 miles/hour in the opposite direction. If the maximum speed of an attacking dinosaur is 3 times its normal traveling speed, then what force would Shiva need to imbue the human with in order for him/her to not be eaten?
    (Show your work.)

    April 3, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Dave 666

      Shiva would pick GM and give the guy a Chevy to drive off in. Now if it were Allah instead of shiva, he would pick a Mercedes...

      April 3, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • Ay Caramba

      None. Dinosaurs and humans did not walk the Earth at the same time. In fact it was millions of years in between.

      April 3, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • Mister Jones

      Is the human drinking Red Bull? ... What about the dinosaur?

      April 3, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      Is the dinosaur a carnivore or, as many adherents of South Asian religions would prefer, a herbivore?

      April 3, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • adam

      the question is... is the dinosaur hungry.

      April 3, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • Nonimus

      All very good points.

      Unfortunately, you would have failed the question on the test because you were distracted by the content.

      April 4, 2012 at 9:31 am |
  12. LadyLina

    What a load! First off, Christians get angry when you don't capitalize "Christianity," so show some respect and capitalize Paganism. Halloween is NOT a Pagan holiday, but a Christianized holiday. Samhain is the WICCAN version. Please learn what Paganism is and is not. Secondly, NYSDoE should not be banning words like "birthday" and "dinosaur." That is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Do they deny the existence of birth or dinosaurs? NYS is my home state, no matter where I live. I am proud of my NYS education, but apparently, they aren't hiring people that were educated there, or this would never have happened!

    April 3, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • Mister Jones

      I don't personally follow J-Man, I think that it is all a load of crap, but Christianity is so named because of Jesus Christ. And names are usually capitalized. Paganism is like atheism, and is not. ... Damnit. Did I just get tricked into a grammar question?

      April 3, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  13. Kabir

    buddy's sister makes $79 every hour on the laptop. She has been fired from work for 10 months but last month her paycheck was $21362 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read more on this site http://www.lazycash23.comONLy

    April 3, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  14. TheAsianAtheist

    This is so damn stupid. How could something like this be considered by officials? People need to realize that it is not possible to go through life not being offended or being guilty of causing offence. Just get over it and move on.

    April 3, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • Nonimus

      "As untrustworthy as Asians are, they do wash clothing (good/well)."

      Instructions: Select the correct word in the sentence above.

      April 3, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  15. Nonimus

    "Jesus were a fictional character in the Bible, an inaccurate version of the true world of Allah."

    Instructions: Correct the form of the verb used above.

    April 3, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  16. rd

    Thank god this didn't go forward. I am offended by certain parts of other peoples cultures and beliefs every day but that doesn't mean I embrace ignorance and act like they don't exist. In fact I try to learn more about them and understand them.

    April 3, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  17. NYC Commentator

    Why not just rip a dictionary in half and only allow words beginning from A through M? Or N through Z? Or ban words beginning with a randomly selected letter chosen each day? Sometimes striving to be politically correct crosses the line and enters the realm of utter stupidity.

    April 3, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • Nonimus

      "New Yorkers are an example of subhuman excrement."
      "New Yorkers use of bathrooms is pure fiction as they don't have any."

      Instructions: Select the correct use of the possessive tense.

      April 3, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      Not tense, CASE.

      April 3, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • Nonimus

      I stand corrected, possessive case.

      Good thing you weren't distracted by the content.

      April 4, 2012 at 9:30 am |
  18. Ciemge1980

    Seems a couple of people need to be removed out of sheer stupidity!!

    April 3, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  19. Achim

    Once again, we kill truth, freedom and intelligence in the name of the biggest stupid idea : RELIGION
    As an Atheist I am offended by religion every day. And Religion is offending the human intelligence every day.
    But go on this way, let religion dictate more and more our life... welcome to the U.S..... sorry I mean IRAN !!!!

    April 3, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • just sayin

      You are going to Hell....you should be concerned

      April 3, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • just sayin

      everybody wants to be me fraud alert

      April 3, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • Carson

      Hell doesn't exist, you're a crazy person ... just sayin'.

      April 3, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
  20. Mike


    April 3, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • MickyC

      You're the only one on this board that has said anything intelligent. Well done, and kudos to you 1984 reference. My thoughts exactly.

      April 4, 2012 at 8:09 am |
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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.