test, standardized test, New York City Department of Education, controversial wordsWith more than one million students, the New York City Department of Education is the largest public school district in the United States. Recently, the massive school system put out a request to companies who make standardized tests to buy exams that did not include offensive or potentially distracting words and topics.

What are some of these topics? You would expect terms related to violence and abuse to be on the removal list because they could offend young children. But descriptions of homes with swimming pools and expensive gifts are excluded, as are references to poverty, homelessness, and loss of employment. Any reference to religion and religious holidays, as well as to evolution or dinosaurs, is banned as well.

The idea behind this list is to make the test psychologically neutral, so that the content is not distracting to students taking the test. How would this affect tests? In a word problem, a test could not ask how many Christmas presents Molly got this year, and there could not be a reading passage on the history of Hanukkah.

Read the entire banned words list here.

NYC is not the first school system to intentionally exclude controversial topics from its tests. CNN reports that in Florida statewide exams do not refer to hurricanes or wildfires.

(Why do we use No. 2 pencils when taking exams? Find out here.)

What do you think about the NYC schools asking for tamer tests?

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  1. Star Violet -  May 10, 2012 - 6:21 pm

    That does make sense…

  2. Mitchell Rilatos -  April 26, 2012 - 12:19 pm

    First comment

  3. Back to the original question -  April 24, 2012 - 2:48 pm

    “Would you do better on a standardized test if distracting words are removed?”

    Well, it depends. If they completely filter the test (such as “Joe ate three pieces of pie and Josie ate two. There were 6 pieces in all. How many are left?” to “6-(3=2)”) then I would not be “distracted”, but I would be bored out of my wits, and it would go from there. But I must agree, some words should be removed, but only to clean it up, not to prevent distraction.

  4. Middle School Student -  April 22, 2012 - 1:25 pm

    I will admit some things on the list should be excluded because I don’t want to get back from watching “the video” in health class and take a test including those subjects. But excluding birthdays, and religious holidays?!?! When I read last year on a test about a Jewish family celebrating Hanukkah, do you think we freaked out because not all of us were Jewish? NO!!! We just send to ourselves that we may not agree with them but they have a right to openly observe their religion, we answered the reading comprehension questions, and moved on. I hate adults trying to hide us in a safety bubble! Unlike adults, we don’t really care that we aren’t Jewish or that we don’t own a computer at home but they do, we just want to finish the test and continue life!

  5. mary torres !so chula! -  April 21, 2012 - 8:42 am


  6. Nobody in particular... -  April 20, 2012 - 3:22 am

    I really don’t think it makes much of a difference. OK, there might be some people with trauma, but are they going to be taking standardised testing?

  7. jimdor -  April 18, 2012 - 3:50 pm

    PS I have graded questions from Florida previously. Good luck to you Lucas Richardson. Your state’s test was particularly confusing.

  8. jimdor -  April 18, 2012 - 3:44 pm

    Having graded these types of tests for the last ten years, the problems are typically confusing to the point that many of the graders–at least half–have problems on their first pass through a problem. Mind you, all were college grads and most had upper level degrees. Some of the answers were just plain wrong. On the math tests the problems had little tricks that rendered the students answers wrong, even though the consensus of the graders was that the student was correct. I wish I could provide examples–they were numerous–but my confidentiality agreement forbids it. If the point is to decrease diverse thought through brain-lock, they are probably spot on. I think it would be better for the teaching and testing be done by teachers locally, and not by bureaucrats.

  9. Lori -  April 18, 2012 - 2:39 pm

    Why make a big deal out of nothing when it dosen’t really bother us?

  10. Sam -  April 11, 2012 - 9:27 pm

    I honestly think that is ridiculous I’m a student and live in a middle class neighborhood in NY, when I take a New York state test or any test that I have to read reading passages like the ELA test I would like to understand the test and I think the easiest way to do that is if they talk about things that a student can read and relate to. If they remove those relating subject I feel that more kids are going to be failing tests.


  11. Mackenzie -  April 10, 2012 - 11:51 am

    well last year on the njask they had something religious i think it was related to how india got their independence and the ways that they lived (so the religion was passed down.) Would that be banned?

    I think that it might not make a good difference. Inappropriate stuff should always be banned. but with taking out the offensive things, test makers or whoever creates the exams should make sure that the tests are appealing to students, like Lucas Richardson said. Going straight to the problem on the test without wandering off might help your timing, but how about your content?

  12. Kt -  April 9, 2012 - 2:02 pm

    Non, non, no! You people ont understand! It’s not because these tests are offensive they are cleaning them up, but what if ou were livin in poverty? Reading a question like that might remind you of how hard your own life is, then how will you finish your test? Same with religion, if you read something you disagree with and your mind wanders to that subject. This is simply a statsgy to make sure the school’s students do well on their tests.

  13. Pc in the school -  April 9, 2012 - 1:27 pm

    [...] in the school Would you do better on a standardized test if distracting words were removed? | The Hot Word | Hot &…NYC Dept of Ed publishes its list of 50 First off.. 121181-wtf_picard-468x.jpg They want to [...]

  14. Allistair -  April 9, 2012 - 12:06 pm

    A wise man once said that if a nation is to forget history, it is doomed to repeat it. This ‘cleaning’ up of the system is absolute genius, if you want to create dumb people. By removing so called distracting words, you are then making the brain lazy. The perfect person you would want to rule over. A person who has no mind or ability to think outside of the box. I say again, genius! How else would you want to rule over people who will believe everything you say. You need to make them intellectually LAZY…

  15. Ann lee -  April 9, 2012 - 8:12 am

    One word:


  16. Lucas Richardson -  April 9, 2012 - 7:56 am

    I as a current student in Florida think these measures are actually going to hurt the students more than help them. Alot of students i know find topics on tests like Christmas or family easier to relate to and it grabs there attention more than simply stating facts and asking numbers. I’m pretty sure a word problem suck as “Amy got so and so more presents then John who as 8″ is alot more appealing to students then “8-A=B”. i hope school legislators will soon realize the students who actually want to do work and do something with their lives will suck it up and learn if they even notice the details of the question at all.

  17. Darwin Christ Almighty! -  April 9, 2012 - 7:46 am

    I think it’s good to include these “distracting” words on tests. I mean, real life is full of… I forget what I was trying to say… something came up… I’ve got to go. CHRISTMAS CANCER!

  18. Me -  April 9, 2012 - 7:44 am

    Though I disagree with removal of items that are “offensive”, I think there is a place for some of this line of reasoning. Standardized testing already puts certain clusters of people at a disadvantage.

    I recently took the GRE while distracted by life events. The difference between that score and my score from 6 years prior was remarkable. And, no, it wasn’t due to attrition. My verbal and math scores didn’t have much noticeable difference- but my writing score suffered tremendously.

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