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City Revokes Testing Word Ban

Monday, April 02, 2012 - 06:14 PM

New York City Department of Education officials said late Monday that they were pulling back on a clause in contracts for testing companies that list 50 words and topics that they should avoid in creating new tests.

In an e-mailed statement, Shael Polakow-Suransky, the city's chief academic officer, said:

"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. 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. New York City schools teach the broadest, richest curriculum in the nation and we can't let this distract from the important work going on our classrooms."

The restrictions have been in place for years, but were widely ridiculed after the New York Post published a report about their existence on March 26.

News organizations, bloggers and others scoffed at the city's decision to discourage the use of words like dinosaur, war and Halloween, especially after an Education Department document said the subjects were listed because they “could evoke unpleasant emotions in the students."

In an opinion article in the Daily News this weekend, Diane Ravitch, the education historian, said the restrictions "were shaped by textbook battles in Texas, California and other states," that were sparked by special interest groups like religious fundamentalists and activists for various causes.

"Why should pressure groups who won battles a generation ago in other states and regions determine what appears on the tests of New York City?" she wrote.

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