Words that might be omitted from city tests

March 26, 2012 2:28:40 PM PDT
Dinosaurs, birthdays and homes with swimming pools - They may not seem like bad words, but students might not see them on city-issued tests in New York City. Educators are worried the words could evoke unpleasant emotions.

Is it student sensitivity or overkill to avoid these topics in tests?

The New York City Department of Education is careful about using some 50 topics in standardized tests. We gave the list to former students and teachers in Morningside Heights and let them be the judge.

"Bodily functions, cancer, celebrities, computers in the home. I don't see the problem," former student Reina Perez said.

"These are words that are daily facts of life that everyone is aware of. It's absurd to try to curb the use of them," former principal Joe Sherman said.

"How can you talk about the world without using these terms? Are you going to limit everything we're learning?" former student Glen Sosa said.

The topics are spelled out to companies competing to revamp English, Math, Science and Social-Studies tests used to measure student progress. They are not banned but the DOE keeps an eye on subjects including: Religion, Dinosaurs (because of evolution), Halloween (suggest paganism), Witchcraft or sorcery, Birthdays (because Jehovah's witnesses don't celebrate them), and Holidays.

Educators are also mindful of socioeconomic issues students face, including: Computers in the home, Homelessness, expensive gifts, vacations and prizes, homes with swimming pools and Loss of employment

Tragedies are also on the list, such as violence, catastrophes/disasters, terrorism, slavery, war and bloodshed, and Weapons

Professor Deana Kuhn from Columbia University Teachers College says these topics are necessary to test critical thinking.

"I think there is a danger that if we put ever possible thing off limits that could possibly threaten any group. You'll be down to some pretty bland stuff that kids can address on an exam. I think that this is overkill," Kuhn said.

So omitting them could mean limiting learning.