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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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68 Comments

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

    That does make sense…

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

    First comment

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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!

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

    heeeyyyyy

    Reply
  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?

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  9. Lori -  April 18, 2012 - 2:39 pm

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

    Reply
  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.

    Sincerely,
    Sam

    Reply
  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?

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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 [...]

    Reply
  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…

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

    One word:

    Ridiculous

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  19. ed -  April 9, 2012 - 7:33 am

    What is education? Teaching math. We can’t teach science that might hurt someone’s religious views. As for language, which one?
    In my point of view this whole thing come down to, “Are you kidding me.” As an example, just because you’re poor doesn’t mean there are no rich people. Does that hurt your feelings because there are people with money. Does that hurt you feelings that there are Christians, Jews and Muslims?
    Or should you be taught to understand others?
    Education is supposed to expose you to things that are outside your comfort range.
    (Here’s the language to teach in the U.S., Chinese. Reason, with the dumbing down of the education in the U.S. there will be no choice.)

    Reply
  20. The Cheshire Cat -  April 9, 2012 - 7:17 am

    uhm…YEAH! its so retarded when they put words that are distracting cus it always makes me end up failing the test!!!

    Reply
  21. mary torres 4tlom -  April 9, 2012 - 7:11 am

    iif u guys wantn to talk there is this new thing thats on infoohio.com just click on were it says leraning commas and regester its just like a face book and its free lol how offten do u here the word free lol :) 8)

    Reply
  22. Ole TBoy -  April 9, 2012 - 5:18 am

    Where, on the list of forbidden words, is “Art”? Now that is a powerful word guranteed to throw lots of kids (and American adults) into a tizzy. It is so challenging to face a word that means absolutely nothing to so many, so destructive to confront an idea that so frequently asks a society to look into it’s own soul, so exhausting to try to understand a creation that approaches objective reality from a subjective point of view. What could the authorities have been thinking to let this simple three letter word slip through their net when it embodies so vast an arsenal of ideas and emotions that can (and should) give us great, existential pause. Shame.

    Reply
  23. Nihal -  April 9, 2012 - 3:57 am

    It is a good idea. While it is essential to provide students with adequate exposure to the facts of life, a test is not the right place to do it, because it is not a teaching/learning opportunity but a measurement tool, and the less distraction there is, the better you can measure what you want to measure. To illustrate my point: How would you like the tests being administered near a construction site or an airport on grounds that noise pollution does exist in the real world?

    Reply
  24. David With Two Cents -  April 8, 2012 - 9:26 pm

    I wonder if the time and energy devoted to omitting the words on the banned list could be better directed at improving the overall quality of the questions. I’m not suggesting the current stock is lacking, but tests should always be improving.

    Reply
  25. NatalieEGH -  April 8, 2012 - 7:37 pm

    I think I have to ask the question why?

    If the purpose is literally to avoid distraction, that is to say an interruption of the test due to the individual drifting off into memories conjured by the word so they do not finish the test, it is valid. This however begs the vocabulary and reading portions of the test be divided into two sections. The first section should be timed and sanitized. The second section should not be timed and contain the potentially distracting words.

    As someone that has a very high IQ, I always did well on the tests. I might mention also if 50 years ago they pigeon holed students then as today, I would have been marked as ADD or ADHD. Yes, I could daydream during the tests. Our family was poor and though my father was in Vietnam and we watched the KIA lists on the new everyday, the words poor or Vietnam would not affect me. However use the word faery and I would probably go into a daydream with faeries flying against the sky, investigating something new, or just in a field. For others it will be the words cowboy, party, computer, horse, or dress.

    If the purpose is to sanitize the test to avoid personally offensive words, potentially controversial topics or topics with personal import, I feel the sanitization does the students little good. Those who are raped must be able to face the word rape. Those whose families have been hurt by terrorism must be able to face the word terrorism. Those that are Christian must know and acknowledge those that are Islamic or Buddist or Hindu or … and visa versa. If an individual reacts badly to a word or is unable to continue a test because of a written word, is it not important to identify such trigger and get the individual counseling.

    As to words such as evolution, that is ridiculous. The word existed prior to the “Theory of Evolution”. It is because of what evolution means that the current theory is called by that name. Discarding the word evolution requires we discard also all the words in the title of such books as “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life” (Darwin, 1859).

    There will always be words that affect people and draw forth images. Worrying about such on a vocabulary test is ludicrous. You are testing vocabulary. You are testing basic knowledge. Break the test into two portions, but I can guarantee you will still have words that distract.

    Reply
  26. Althea Bowman Nations -  April 8, 2012 - 3:00 pm

    This type of censoring serves only as a convenience to the school board and other control freaks. It is extremely doubtful that a child with an active imagination will be offended by the mention of any of these things unless prompted by a parent or teacher. The mere notion that these topics are detrimental to their test results, or that they are disturbing to the point of distraction, is absurd and just a projection of their own ludicrous sensibilities. In short, this is nothing but a desperate (albeit useless) attempt at thought control. Censor the censor!

    Reply
  27. Grace Marotta -  April 8, 2012 - 2:00 pm

    I totally wish all schools would do that, in all states, because I hate when I read a question and chuckle because I distract others and lose my train of thought.

    Reply
  28. Erhone -  April 8, 2012 - 1:57 pm

    How wil psychologically neutral tests prepare students for an intensely diverse world where they must think critically? This kind of policy is ridiculous!

    Reply
  29. Noob -  April 8, 2012 - 1:26 pm

    if they remove hard words, it’ll be alot easier for me to take the SHSAT

    Reply
  30. James -  April 8, 2012 - 12:36 pm

    I’m not so sure that’s a good idea. I don’t think that tests ought to be over-the-top offensive, but at the same time it’s not like you’re going to have someone editing all the references to birthdays when you get a job. Maybe NY should spend a little time teaching the kids to ignore the things that offend them rather than whine about it.

    Reply
  31. Unknow -  April 8, 2012 - 12:16 pm

    Wow, that’s a fantastic idea!! Each and everyone of those things affect us in one way or another!! I’m in school right now and i know how some topics can be very distracting from the task on hand.

    Reply
  32. michayla -  April 8, 2012 - 11:46 am

    uhhh this kinda dont make any sence i meanit is kinnda stupid sorry but its my opinion

    Reply
  33. A J Lauria -  April 8, 2012 - 9:32 am

    ‘Psychologically neutral’ or brain dead?
    Will these social engineers never be satisfied
    until all features that distinguish us are eradicated?
    Isn’t variety the spice of life, or has that been eliminated
    too? How can a student learn about the world with such
    censoring?

    Reply
  34. mysterics -  April 8, 2012 - 7:50 am

    And also how are history tests going to be complete without allusions to religion?
    And what about religious studies?

    Reply
  35. mysterics -  April 8, 2012 - 7:47 am

    It depends what it’s a test on, obviously, discouraging of a maths problem involving Christmas is understandable, but if it’s a science test than how the hell is the test going to be a proper evaluation of Science knowledge without evolution or dinosaurs?

    Reply
  36. starsixseven -  April 8, 2012 - 7:26 am

    I think people are way too offendable. If we removed all the “controversal” material from school, we’d have to ban history classes. I was expecting them to ban the questions which gave students the runaround, such as, “Which of the following statements does not contradict the information given?” Those are confusing and distracting…

    Reply
  37. Jude -  April 8, 2012 - 7:01 am

    i agree

    Reply
  38. KR -  April 8, 2012 - 6:31 am

    Ridiculous!
    …unless the NYCDE wants to nurture its youth into be softies with no backbone. It’s not a cotton world out there – reading about poverty or wealth in an exam and developing the skills to remain emotionally detached enough to continue with the test, may just help underprivileged youngsters to tackle their issues face on, whilst toughening their emotional immune system.

    I was ‘the poor kid’ at school. I remember feeling the pain of reading test questions that described situations that I longed for: exciting Christmas presents; holidays; birthday cake. The pressure of having time against me spurred me on to overlook my hardship and get on with the exam; a skill transferable to many life situations. I seriously disliked my youth due to many of the issues that poverty stricken children experience (single parent families, alcoholic parents, financial hardship, child abuse, etc), but as a young, well-rounded adult, I’d change little about my past now as I appreciate quite how much it has aided my emotional development and outlooks on life. I understand that other youngsters in similar positions to myself may not always be fortunate and/or strong enough to power through the hard times, but I strongly believe that turning a blind eye to the sh*t in life won’t ever help. Hiding from your problems doesn’t make them go away, confronting them and learning to accept/deal with them will enable you to rise above them.

    Reply
  39. anas -  April 8, 2012 - 4:57 am

    Great now it is gone i dont need to worry about offencive words in the big tests!

    Reply
  40. Kevin Martin -  April 7, 2012 - 8:38 pm

    In my opinion, censoring the tests is simply a bad idea. Religion, holidays, evolution, and dinosaurs are all a part of life. Just because someone doesn’t agree with the validity of something does not mean that he or she should just not read about it at all.

    Reply
  41. Abigail Guzman -  April 7, 2012 - 6:13 pm

    If there are words like “stupid” or “dumb” on tests they can be small but effective distractions in a child’s mind.

    Reply
  42. Cyberquill -  April 7, 2012 - 5:23 pm

    School and exams are primary sources of stress for students, so exams should be cleansed of all references to, well, school and exams.

    Reply
  43. 2nd -  April 7, 2012 - 3:47 pm

    I think VA agreed to that too.

    Reply
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  45. o -  April 7, 2012 - 2:59 pm

    I do wonder how they’re going to do history with these requirements.

    Reply
  46. Helen -  April 7, 2012 - 1:53 pm

    I can understand not wanting to distract or upset students, but won’t this make tests more boring? When I took reading tests, I enjoyed some of the interesting short stories and essays. “Rock-and-roll music” and “Rap music” are on the banned list. Whatever happened to making learning fun?

    Reply
  47. khaj -  April 7, 2012 - 12:56 pm

    At this rate, we won’t even have to do exams! YAY! exams are phsycologically very stressful

    Reply
  48. juwairiyyah -  April 7, 2012 - 10:26 am

    well it ound good though most of the kids thrive on these words so it give them an understanding though your right they should just get to the point but not these new test papers

    Reply
  49. [...] ‘Cleaner Standardized Tests’ — Must be some kinda trick question. — Of course, we wash our hands after Number 2 Pencils and number two loafs for sure. — We hope that helps keep the tests cleaner, — not to mention the handle on the door: — opened, closed or revolving. — Regimented consistency certainly won’t help problem solving, — nor the distraction of evolving. — Isolation of cultures: — Spoon fed segregation in stealth. — More food for the vultures — Eliminating Hope for knowledge — To ever be more powerful than monetary wealth. –>>L.T.Rhyme [...]

    Reply
  50. Jasmine -  April 7, 2012 - 8:07 am

    I do not agree.

    Reply
  51. Eric -  April 7, 2012 - 6:39 am

    The 50 “forbidden words” are not really words; they are topics that include hundreds of words. This action will reduced tests to inane examples like “Dick and Jane saw a dog,” but what if a student cannot have a pet dog because of allergies or other reasons? He or she could be upset by the test…..it’s a no-win situation.

    And what is the overall effect of trying to shield children from real life? For many, it will be a shock when they run into real life, and that is when the psychological damage will really occur. So this initiative is, for many, just forestalling and increasing the psychological damage for the sake of “political correctness.”

    Reply
  52. Kalah Simpson -  April 7, 2012 - 5:27 am

    I think it makes complete sense and is a great idea. Many people are easily distracted, so the more that can be minimized the better.

    Reply
  53. Liesl -  April 7, 2012 - 3:55 am

    The United States of America is getting more and more ridiculous.

    Reply
  54. DXC -  April 6, 2012 - 11:18 pm

    ‘You can yearn for light, but how can you be so timid as to avoid darkness?’ That’s what I think of the request. It’s cowardish. Ridiculous. No wonder the world of slang evolves so fast.

    Reply
  55. Elliott -  April 6, 2012 - 11:10 pm

    While it is upsetting that humankind is still, as this article puts it, distracted by such terms, I do believe that in this case the proper concessions are being made. Education must always take place on equal ground, and must never be influenced by preconceptions of any kind. That is it’s very basis.

    On the other hand, Daniel Dennet, one of the most important living American philosophers, has raised a theory regarding education in the area of religion. He suggests that all schools should teach pure facts on all religions, and so allow everyone to make their own decisions. Obviously, this decision will always be influenced by an individual’s upbringing and parentage, but at least that decision would be fully informed. The goal of such an idea is to place all people in a state of open-mindedness, and to extend the freedom of religion and choice that our constitution so powerfully endorses.

    This article’s subject may represent a more general idea. In this country, there is no place for discrimination of any kind. It is unjust and unwarranted. If we can, we must eliminate such vestiges to the best of our ability.

    Reply
  56. Rick -  April 6, 2012 - 8:21 pm

    Whoever is offended by the word “evolution” might want to skip the rest of school anyway and become a minister or a manual laborer. I don’t think that science is your field, buddy.

    Next, we’ll say that 2+2=5 is close enough, and that everybody’s opinion has equal worth. Good job, everybody! You’re all special…just for being you!

    It’s sickening that people do everything they can to raise the grades of the lowest common denominator (<- non-strict mathematical usage). Some people are just stupid and the sooner society realizes that simple truth, the better.

    Reply
  57. Oloff -  April 6, 2012 - 8:15 pm

    How does that prepare people for the real world?

    Reply
  58. Craig -  April 6, 2012 - 8:02 pm

    Yes, because Christmas, Hanukkah, hurricanes, and wildfires DO NOT exist. Who are the idiots that are being paid to come up with these stupid regulations? Even better, how does someone come up with this horrible idea and then get everybody down the line to agree? Instead of removing potentially offensive subjects, why don’t we embrace people’s differences for a change and not worry about including all of them? Also, if by trying to neutralize tests in order to avoid distractions…welcome to life. As children grow up and enter the work force, they will be faced with challenges and distractions all the time. What do you think school is for? It’s for teaching kids how to cope with the eventualities of the harsh world ahead of them. These administrators should be ashamed of themselves.

    Reply
  59. Fleb -  April 6, 2012 - 7:17 pm

    I think that’s genius.

    Reply
  60. sherryyu -  April 6, 2012 - 6:32 pm

    not reall y but its NYCS choice

    Reply
  61. Aaron -  April 6, 2012 - 4:45 pm

    Honestly I think this is making too much a deal out of nothing. Just because my grandpa died of cancer doesn’t mean it’ll psychologically penalize me if I see the word “cancer” on a test… Really? Banning “birthday?” A tad out of hand you’d think. Yes, we should avoid extreme words like “pornography” and “terrorism” in standardized tests to make it CLEANER, but not because we feel we need to be politically correct for EVERYONE. It’s the same spiel as when everyone called for using “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas:” just say either one, don’t blow it out of proportion.

    Reply
  62. August Thornhill -  April 6, 2012 - 3:11 pm

    Well, sure it makes sense to ban certain subjects and words from tests. What better way to prepare kids for the sterile, conflict-free world in which we live than to provide them with a test that reflects those qualities? Since when was the world of standardized testing so worried about hurt feelings?

    Reply
  63. Ryan -  April 6, 2012 - 1:44 pm

    Dafuq did I just read

    Reply

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