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50 banned words on New York tests, polling, and cultural bias

Written By: Youki on March 29, 2012 20 Comments

http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2012/03/29/piers-morgan-only-in-america-banned-words.cnn

Piers Morgan examines 50 words that are banned on New York school tests.  Here’s the full list:

  • Abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological)
  • Alcohol (beer and liquor), tobacco, or drugs
  • Birthday celebrations (and birthdays)
  • Bodily functions
  • Cancer (and other diseases)
  • Catastrophes/disasters (tsunamis and hurricanes)
  • Celebrities
  • Children dealing with serious issues
  • Cigarettes (and other smoking paraphernalia)
  • Computers in the home (acceptable in a school or library setting)
  • Crime
  • Death and disease
  • Divorce
  • Evolution
  • Expensive gifts, vacations, and prizes
  • Gambling involving money
  • Halloween
  • Homelessness
  • Homes with swimming pools
  • Hunting
  • Junk food
  • In-depth discussions of sports that require prior knowledge
  • Loss of employment
  • Nuclear weapons
  • Occult topics (i.e. fortune-telling)
  • Parapsychology
  • Politics
  • Pornography
  • Poverty
  • Rap Music
  • Religion
  • Religious holidays and festivals (including but not limited to Christmas, Yom Kippur, and Ramadan)
  • Rock-and-Roll music
  • Running away
  • Sex
  • Slavery
  • Terrorism
  • Television and video games (excessive use)
  • Traumatic material (including material that may be particularly upsetting such as animal shelters)
  • Vermin (rats and roaches)
  • Violence
  • War and bloodshed
  • Weapons (guns, knives, etc.)
  • Witchcraft, sorcery, etc.

 

As an educational researcher, I take a completely different approach.  One of the main goals of testing is to assess a student’s knowledge and understanding of a particular subject.  This can be a very delicate process — the ways in which questions are worded can have a significant impact on the answers given.  This is a constant issue in political polling, for example.  A recent YouGov poll suggests that a majority of Republicans don’t want to decrease spending to most government programs, but there’s a difference between wanting to cut spending to a government program vs. the complexity of actual issues that concern voters, such as whether additional spending is possible with a budget deficit, whether the funds are better spent elsewhere, or whether a federal program is best suited to implement the program (perhaps it’s better run as a state or local program).  People’s understanding of social and economic issues is often much more complex and nuanced than polling suggests.

An infamous case of polling bias happened in 2010, when the Pew Research Center asked, “Do you happen to know what Barack Obama’s religion is? Is he Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, or something else?” 34% of respondents said that Obama was Christian while 18% said he was Muslim.  Time magazine used different wording: “Do you personally believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim or a Christian?”  Given only two options, 47% of respondents said he was Christian, while 24% said Muslim.  The choice of wording influences how people answer a question.  If the following question is asked: “Do you believe that Barack Hussein Obama is a Muslim?” then it’s likely that an even higher number of people will say yes.

When constructing a test, it’s important to remove any bias that may occur from how the questions and responses are worded.  In particular, cultural bias may skew test responses.  Here’s an example: “John put his hat on the table” vs. “John put his afghan on the divan.”  The first sentence would be clear to most people, but the second sentence may be more difficult to understand.  The extra effort required to process the second sentence may be too small to measure in individual test-takers, but looking at aggregate scores may yield more significant differences.

I think of it as noise.  When constructing a test, you want to make sure that there’s as little noise as possible.  Consider the following question: “Charles Manson rode the train for 3 hours.  The train was travelling at 60 miles per hour.  How far did the train go?”  You may spend more time thinking about why Charles Manson is on the train, where he’s headed, or any number of other thoughts.  Or the following question: “The farmer killed 3 chickens on Saturday, 5 chickens on Sunday, 2 chickens on Monday, and no chickens the rest of the week.  On average, how many chickens does the farmer kill per day?”  That question may make some people queasy, but now replace “chickens” with “kittens” and suddenly you’ll see test scores drop.  The attitude that you have towards kittens being killed may be the same attitude a vegetarian has towards chickens being killed.

A poorly designed test confuses what is being testing with who is being tested.  If a question singles out a particular group of people, that makes test data less reliable.  It’s not that educational researchers want to avoid offending people, it’s that offending people creates noise in the data that skews results.  Is it enough to make a single person answer a question incorrectly?  Probably not.  If I ask you the two Obama religion questions from above, chances are your answer will be consistent.  However, when you total up all of the answers and compare the two surveys, you start seeing differences emerge that aren’t obvious at the individual level.

——

update:

I feel that there may be some misconceptions about the NY ban on test words.  Here are a few key points:

1.  It’s not really a ban.  The word “ban” is used by journalists who want a catchy headline.  The actual document says: “As a guide, the following topics are to be avoided:”  Those words can still be used in relevant test subjects.

2.  The list applies to statewide standardized tests.  We’re not talking about classroom tests given by teachers.   A biology teacher can still give a test on dinosaurs or cancer.  A history teacher can still give a test on slavery.

3.  It’s not even a test that grades students:

“Students take Periodic Assessments several times throughout the school year to give teachers more information about what students have learned. Teachers use these assessments—along with other school work and what they see in class—to learn where students need more help and plan targeted instruction. The New York City DOE does not use Periodic Assessment results to grade children or schools.”

So we’re not even talking about real tests.  These are a guide to help teachers with their instruction, and don’t impact a student’s grade.

I feel that people read the headlines and assume that these words are being banned from schools or from all school tests, but from what I read, that isn’t the case.  They’re being banned from a very specific statewide standardized test that’s used to guide a teacher’s instruction.  Teachers can use the words all they want in their own tests.

http://www.classsizematters.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/RFPR09111.pdf http://www.classsizematters.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/RFPR0911Section3Appendices1.pdf http://schools.nyc.gov/Accountability/resources/assessments/default.htm

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20 Responses to “50 banned words on New York tests, polling, and cultural bias”

  1. Usree Bhattacharya on: 29 March 2012 at 9:34 am

    Hi Youki, interesting post! I wanted to throw in here, that sequence in which options are presented can also influence answers:

    “Do you happen to know what Barack Obama’s religion is? Is he Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, or something else?”

    “Do you personally believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim or a Christian?”

    In the first case, Muslim is a THIRD option, whereas in the second, it is FIRST of two. This is a difficult thing because the options have to be presented in *some* sequence, and it would be impossible to discount the consequence of sequencing from the results…

  2. Youki on: 29 March 2012 at 12:17 pm

    Excellent point, Usree, and I absolutely agree that sequencing has the potential to bias test results. Especially with a spoken poll (like a telephone poll), you may have skewed responses based on how the question is worded, how answers are ordered, and how long each possible answer is (if the list of answers is long, I think responses will shift to later responses).

  3. Pure Sophistry on: 1 April 2012 at 6:39 am

    This proposal is shameful and is designed to fail utterly. We at Pure Sophistry took the issue to tackle the broader argument of offensive materials in the classroom (like editing Huckleberry Finn) and have created a poll so we can all vote on how to handle such materials. Hope the discussion continues!

    http://puresophistry.com/2012/03/31/the-city-of-new-york-creates-a-list-of-banned-words/

  4. Youki on: 1 April 2012 at 8:00 am

    I generally agree with you, and I like your post on the issue. There’s a difference between learning materials and standardized testing materials, though. When you give students a test, you want to make sure that the conditions that they’re taking the test in are as consistent as possible. If you start using confusing, distracting, and offensive words, some kids will get a lower score — not because they don’t understand the material, but because the test was biased against them.

    It’s like any other test — you want to be fair to everyone taking the test. For example, if you tested a group of students on how fast they can run a mile, they should all run on the same track. If some kids run in sand, they’ll be slower, and that’s not fair to them. If some kids have to run on the street with traffic, they’ll be slower. You want to remove any distractions so they can focus on taking the test.

    I do agree with your post that a good educational system encourages dialogue and exploration. Let’s take your point a step further, though: what if educational tests used the word “n-gger”? Don’t you think that would be inappropriate? It may be good for a classroom discussion on racial tension in America, but if you’re testing how well a student knows algebra, it doesn’t belong.

    If those 50 words were banned from schools, then I’d have a huge problem with that. They’re banned from standardized tests, though, which is a very different issue. You want as few distractions as possible so students are taking a fair test.

    Pure Sophistry Reply:

    Good point, Youki, I responded more fully on my post to you, but the issue is not whether the word ‘nigger’ should be allowed on tests – in general, you are correct that tests should avoid ‘charged’ material in order to ensure that the purpose of the test isn’t harmed.

    However this list takes things to an extreme degree – part of the educational experience is to explore the cultural fiend in which you live, to figure out what offends you and what doesn’t, so to police children’s sensitivities for them in such an extreme way condescends to them and robs them of a cultural interaction they should be allowed to have. So, in short, yes, no questions with ‘nigger’ or ‘Charles Manson,’ but words like ‘burqa’ and ‘pizzeria’ should be perfectly acceptable.

    Pure Sophistry Reply:

    *field, not fiend

  5. Youki on: 1 April 2012 at 4:05 pm

    People tend to be faster when they’re taking a test with familiar concepts. Let’s say I made a math test using only football examples. Chances are you’ll see a slight difference in scores between boys and girls. While I agree that exposure to different cultures is good, doing so in a testing environment creates variations in scores that have less to do with subject knowledge and more to do with how familiar someone is with the topic. A bad test is one that favors one group over another in a way that is irrelevant to the subject area.

    You don’t want students to struggle over words that have nothing to do with the test subject. It would be like giving a student a pencil that doesn’t work. It’s not about policing them or coddling them, it’s about providing a fair testing environment so the scores that you get are accurate and reliable.

    What’s ordinary to you may be shocking to someone else. It’s better to err on the side of caution than to risk a biased test.

    comment reposted from:
    http://puresophistry.com/2012/03/31/the-city-of-new-york-creates-a-list-of-banned-words/

    Pure Sophistry Reply:

    I think that difference, if there is one at all, will be very very slight. Obviously you don’t want to have indecipherable materials about obscure cultural practices. But saying things like ‘a muslim walks to a mosque’ to set up a math problem vs. ‘a man walks to a building’ I think is a safe thing to say, but it wouldn’t be allowed under the provisos of this list.

    I also think it would be ridiculous to say that such a scenario would ‘favor’ muslims taking the test. This silliness boils down to: this person in the test example isn’t exactly like me, therefore someone who is MORE like the person used in the test question has an unfair advantage. This is obvious nonsense.

    I don’t think you can substantially prove that such a bias is anything more than negligible, or that such a bias produces substantially different test results. It’s also wise to remember that correlation isn’t causation, and we need to look further into the assumption that girls tested lower because the question had to do with football. I’d be careful assuming things like that.

    Obviously a test shouldn’t have every question about one culture (or sport or whatever), but restricting tests in this way is an absurd waste of time. We shouldn’t be worried that girls will be alienated by sports or white kids will be alienated by references to another culture – students have the cognitive ability to understand questions regardless of what example is used, and all we should be worrying about is if the question is clear, not if we’ve ‘alienated’ people by ‘exposing’ them to an illustration that doesn’t apply to their own lives.

    Should we not focus on other things in regards to standardized tests, instead of worrying that we’ll alienate a ‘creationist’ student because the test question used the word ‘dinosaur’? Let’s strive for CLARITY, not ‘cultural sensitivity.’ At least one is actually achievable.

    (I’ll keep posting comments on both our blogs).
    http://puresophistry.com/2012/03/31/the-city-of-new-york-creates-a-list-of-banned-words/

  6. Youki on: 1 April 2012 at 6:41 pm

    Here’s an infamous example from an actual SAT exam:

    RUNNER: MARATHON ::
    A) envoy: embassy
    B) martyr: massacre
    C) oarsman: regatta
    D) referee: tournament
    E) horse: stable

    The question is no longer used, but such examples do exist of cultural bias. In the above question, 53% of white students answered correctly while only 22% of black students also answered correctly.

    We know that familiarity with a word has an impact on how well a student scores on a question involving it. If a word is controversial to a group of people, is it better to use that word and hope we haven’t introduced testing bias, or is it better to avoid using the word in favor of one less controversial?

    It’s not about cultural sensitivity. Using a word like “regatta” isn’t offensive to black students. It’s about avoiding words that skew test scores. I’m sure the SAT question above looks fine to most people, but it’s only when you look at aggregate data that the differences become clear. It’s irresponsible as an educator to assume that the way the majority understands the world applies to everyone.

    Maybe you’re not worried that girls will be alienated by sports or white kids alienated by references to another culture, but there are plenty of people who do concern themselves with test bias. Otherwise, we’d still have the RUNNER: MARATHON analogy (we’d still have analogies), and we’d still have black students getting a lower score.

    Pure Sophistry Reply:

    “It’s irresponsible as an educator to assume that the way the majority understands the world applies to everyone.” The extrapolations you make on this statement are staggering.

    Reading your statement I’m not sure where the culturally confusing word is suppose to be? Are you suggesting that Black students don’t know what a regatta is but white students will?

    Your information doesn’t seem causative as well, 53% of those with the name eric got this question correct but 22% of women who menstruated in the last 5 days didn’t. It’s an arbitrary connecting device that should never link the level of melanin in someones skin pigmentation to test scores.

    There also seems to be one important point that’s being missed here. It’s the idea that certain groupings of individuals lack the comprehension to understand a specific term and therefore misunderstand the meaning of the problem….

    You mean to tell me that a majority of black kids read that question and then instead of asking for clarity of terms with a teacher they guessed!?! Just silly.

  7. Youki on: 2 April 2012 at 7:35 am

    Herrnstein and Murray in The Bell Curve discuss the example to a great degree, if you want to read further. You can also read Inequality by Design by Fischer et al.

    > Reading your statement I’m not sure where the culturally confusing word is suppose to be? Are you suggesting that Black students don’t know what a regatta is but white students will?

    No. I’m saying that there’s a difference in how Black and White kids answered that question, and that difference creates test bias. Maybe it has more to do with SES, or geography (living closer to water probably increases exposure to boat races). Maybe certain kids just watch a television show that uses the word “regatta,” and those kids happen to be White. That’s all irrelevant. The important thing is that there is a question that produced a lot of variation on how correctly students answered, and the variation had more to do with a student’s background than their ability to identify the correct analogous relationship.

    > You mean to tell me that a majority of black kids read that question and then instead of asking for clarity of terms with a teacher they guessed!?! Just silly.

    Well, you can’t ask the teacher for help on a test, especially on a standardized test. On the SAT it’s not even a teacher, it’s a proctor. If a confusing word is on a test, isn’t it better to not have it in the test to begin with, instead of hoping that things turn out ok? Are you really suggesting that we shouldn’t have a problem with the regatta question?

    Pure Sophistry Reply:

    “No. I’m saying that there’s a difference in how Black and White kids answered that question, and that difference creates test bias. ”

    Yes, there is a statistical difference, the problem is that you take that correlation of race to an answer on a test and make it a causal factor. The example still applies: it’s still like taking a statistical pattern of women on their periods and attributing their test answers to that one attribute. You prove there’s a pattern according to race, but don’t substantiate anything about race being a causal factor to that pattern. Why not look for patterns with kids all with the same names or same height or hair color? It’s silly to look at statistics this way.

    Perhaps the problem is student vocabulary? Instead of looking at an unfamiliarity with a word as a sympton of cultural insensitivity, perhaps we need to look at it as an indication of how an education system needs to improve. Regatta seems a familiar enough word, but then again, I’m white so what do I know about cultural insensitivity?

    “If a confusing word is on a test, isn’t it better to not have it in the test to begin with, instead of hoping that things turn out ok? Are you really suggesting that we shouldn’t have a problem with the regatta question?”

    If a confusing word is on a test, shouldn’t that be an indication (again) that some aspect of education needs to improve? If you take an english test and a majority of students don’t know what the word ‘epigraph’ means, it’s probably an indication that their english class needs to be improved, not that any question using such a word has to be removed.

    So I don’t think we should have a problem with the regatta question AT ALL, unless it’s part of a very large, very obstinate test pattern where all examples in the questions are activities attributed to wealthy white people. 8 regatta questions and 4 polo ones would worry me, not one use of a slightly less-known word on a test that is meant to challenge students.

    So overall, I think that to claim the things you’re claiming about cultural background and test question applicability, you’ll need far more substantiation than a statistical correlation. Again, common sense in making test questions (not having explicit material or words from the 14th century) is still an adequate guide, and I don’t think the regatta question disproves that at all.

    Youki Reply:

    I’m not making race a causal factor, if you’d look beyond the 1st sentence that I wrote:
    “No. I’m saying that there’s a difference in how Black and White kids answered that question, and that difference creates test bias. Maybe it has more to do with SES, or geography (living closer to water probably increases exposure to boat races). Maybe certain kids just watch a television show that uses the word “regatta,” and those kids happen to be White. That’s all irrelevant. The important thing is that there is a question that produced a lot of variation on how correctly students answered, and the variation had more to do with a student’s background than their ability to identify the correct analogous relationship.”

    >If you take an english test and a majority of students don’t know what the word ‘epigraph’ means, it’s probably an indication that their english class needs to be improved, not that any question using such a word has to be removed.

    I agree fully, but if you take a math test and students don’t know what an epigraph means, then you have a problem with the test itself, because you don’t know if people are actually getting the math problem wrong or if they’re getting caught up with the question.

    If you have a math test that uses the word “cancer”, and kids who have lost a family member to cancer tend to get lower scores, would you have a problem with that?

    Pure Sophistry Reply:

    Still, difference does not constitute bias. Again, there are a thousand statistical differences that would require a lot more substantial evidence to prove that these differences are indicative of bias. The variation doesn’t have to do with a student’s background UNLESS YOU MAKE THE ASSUMPTION THAT IT DOES!

    Race would be one of those causal assumptions (or culture, or whatever). You can’t attribute different test scores to a difference in background without providing MUCH more evidence. That is my general point. These connections rely on far too many assumptions, on correlations that aren’t necessarily causations.

    I agree with your point about the math test – it’s not an english test so an english problem hinders that subject’s test. Getting caught up with the question IS an issue, of course. But in terms of the regatta example? The question itself is not a math question, it has to deal with terms and knowledge of those terms and their relation to other terms. For which regatta seems an adequate example.

    I would have a problem using a ‘cancer’ example in any test because, again, I think it falls under common-sense composition that extreme, palpable situations of life and death shouldn’t make it onto test questions. In all my experiences as an educator and student, I have never encountered such a question – most math/physics questions have to do with someone throwing a ball, jumping, movement and the like. How a cancer question would relate to highschool math problems (unless dealing with R/O numbers in biology, for which I would agree it would be appropriate to such a test) is also very unclear and therefore unlikely.

    The whole point is that such an exhaustive list of ‘inappropriate’ testing words is utterly overboard. We cannot account for every permutation of a student’s personal experience and background, and anyone taking a test brings their own experiences (for better or worse) to that test. Beyond a simple application of common sense that works toward ultimate clarity and relevance of the test question, I don’t think we need anything like these severely restrictive lists, under which football references would not be allowed, when a math example could simply be someone throwing a football for the calculation of distance!

    The problem with the things you’re saying are in some of the tacit assumptions that are made uncritically and the overemphasized need of regulation.

    Youki Reply:

    >The whole point is that such an exhaustive list of ‘inappropriate’ testing words is utterly overboard.

    It’s not that the words are inappropriate. If students score differently on a standardized test because of the words that are used, then it’s not a good test to begin with (unless the words are clearly part of the test subject). If using “book”, “chair”, “oven”, and “blanket” make group A and group B score the same on a test, but using “regatta” makes group A score higher, then I don’t care why that is the case, all I know is that the word “regatta” can’t be trusted to give me good test results. That’s my main point, that having a list of words to avoid on standardized tests has its roots in statistics and testing methodology, not in being politically correct. The whole point of a standardized test is consistency, and you can’t have consistency if you’re using controversial, offensive, or inappropriate words. I’m not saying that those words don’t belong in the classroom, they just don’t belong in standardized tests.

  8. daveski on: 4 April 2012 at 8:48 am

    I think I see where both of you are coming from–well, a little bit at least. While I certainly think that ‘noise’ or ‘distractors’ need to be reduced or eliminated on tests to reduce bias, for me, this list seems ludicrous, like an evisceration of a teacher’s/test-maker’s ability to have tests relate to meaningful, contentious aspects not just of life ‘as an American’ and/or other identities & life experiences that children bring to schools, but as a kid in school. What’s left to talk about after bodily functions, sex, running away, weapons and violence, politics, poverty, and all the rest have been removed? Why isn’t “sports” on this list too–aren’t football, basketball, and baseball hegemonic and exclusionary too?

    Censorship in schools is such a huge topic these days…http://campusprogress.org/articles/az._official_considers_expanding_ban_on_ethnic_studies_to_universities/

  9. Youki on: 4 April 2012 at 9:49 am

    I agree with your point Dave, and I want education, as a whole, to include a large spectrum of human experience. The difference is that in a classroom environment, you have the opportunity for dialogue that isn’t afforded in a test-taking environment. I just can’t imagine contention working well in a closed, solitary, timed setting like a standardized test, where more value is placed on someone’s answer than on the process by which they arrived at their answer.

    It seems to me that the criticism against having a list of banned words is really a critique of standardized testing. I’ve been on that side of the argument many times. I feel that while many people think standardized tests are neutral, they are culturally biased and this bias, more often than not, unfairly targets minorities.

    I’m happy when kids are confused. Actually, I love seeing kids confused, because it shows that they’re thinking critically about conflicting ideas. I’ve done a lot of work at LHS on kids being confused about science concepts vs. what they perceive (one of my favorite examples was a student wondering why it’s colder at the top of a mountain, even though it’s closer to the sun). But that confusion, which I value so much in the classroom, doesn’t have an opportunity to evolve in a standardized test. I feel that it has the opposite effect: it silences and excludes. It’s a barrier. It says, “if you didn’t have a similar life experience with the majority, then you will do worse on this test.” And to me, that’s not the purpose of education.

  10. Youki on: 5 April 2012 at 5:31 pm

    I feel that there may be some misconceptions about the NY ban on test words. Here are a few key points:

    1. It’s not really a ban. The word “ban” is used by journalists who want a catchy headline. The actual document says: “As a guide, the following topics are to be avoided:” Those words can still be used in relevant test subjects.

    2. The list applies to statewide standardized tests. We’re not talking about classroom tests given by teachers. A biology teacher can still give a test on dinosaurs or cancer. A history teacher can still give a test on slavery.

    3. It’s not even a test that grades students:

    “Students take Periodic Assessments several times throughout the school year to give teachers more information about what students have learned. Teachers use these assessments—along with other school work and what they see in class—to learn where students need more help and plan targeted instruction. The New York City DOE does not use Periodic Assessment results to grade children or schools.”

    So we’re not even talking about real tests. These are a guide to help teachers with their instruction, and don’t impact a student’s grade.

    I feel that people read the headlines and assume that these words are being banned from schools or from all school tests, but from what I read, that isn’t the case. They’re being banned from a very specific statewide standardized test that’s used to guide a teacher’s instruction. Teachers can use the words all they want in their own tests.

    http://www.classsizematters.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/RFPR09111.pdf
    http://www.classsizematters.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/RFPR0911Section3Appendices1.pdf
    http://schools.nyc.gov/Accountability/resources/assessments/default.htm

  11. COr4 on: 4 June 2012 at 2:22 am

    Interesting article. It was fair to point out this is not a ban. However, you made too much out of this point. So what if it is only a polite guideline or an all-out prohibition?

    Whether a recommendation or a ban, what “offends” ME is the logic behind it. Why is it any more logical to ask us to avoid “birthdays” and “houses with swimming pools” on some tests, than to ask us to ban it from classes altogether? A ban would be worse because of the reach of the stupidity involved, but it is THE STUPIDITY behind it that is what should worry us. Because if unchallenged, the logic which spurred the guideline might well call for a ban next time. The logic employed by the NYC department of education on this occasion is highly indicative of the extreme depths to which some will plunge in the name of political correctness.

    They wish to shield students from concepts which they assume are foreign to them, (in the case of “birthdays” and “houses with swimming pools”) and automatically conclude that what is (supposedly) new to a student must therefore be offensive.

    They also wish to shield students from aspects of life and reality which no one will escape, regardless of the student’s background (i.e. “death and disease”, “serious issues”). To what kind of distorted reality would they wish to expose students?

    Isn’t this the antithesis to the concept of “learning”? What are these people doing commenting on any aspect of education?

  12. Youki on: 4 June 2012 at 2:53 pm

    good points, COr4. I do also make the point that these words aren’t being banned from classrooms (I’d never support them being banned completely from classrooms), they’re being banned from a specific test. My goal isn’t necessarily to defend the guidelines, but to provide perspective on the guidelines.

    I wouldn’t call it stupidity, to me it’s being extremely sensitive to the effect that certain words can have in producing reliable data. I agree it would be stupid to ban the word “dinosaur” from a science test, but if a test isn’t intended to measure a student’s science knowledge and using the word “dinosaur” makes some students answer poorly, then it’s not a reliable test.

    Think about it this way: if there’s a math test that has the question: “John owns 2 slaves. Gary owns 3 slaves. How many more slaves does Gary own compared to John?” Wouldn’t you think there’s something wrong with the question?

    Now, kids probably won’t answer that question incorrectly, but some kids may take longer to answer because of the words used. Some kids may have an emotional reaction, like “this is a stupid test” and not try as hard on subsequent questions. The goal isn’t to protect the students, but to make sure that students aren’t getting lower scores because of poorly-designed test questions.

    Also, removing the word “slavery” from a math test doesn’t mean that it’ll be removed from history classes. Now, I don’t work in the government sector so I can’t guarantee that, but as someone involved in education I can say that actually banning words from classrooms would never succeed.

    From a researcher’s perspective, removing words from a test isn’t about protecting students, it’s about making a test that produces reliable results. If I’m making a test that uses the word “divorce” and kids whose parents have recently divorced are scoring lower, then there’s something wrong with the test. I’m not testing how stable a student’s family is. I’m not trying to shield them from “divorce,” I’m trying to make a test that isn’t influenced by factors that are irrelevant to the test material.

    That doesn’t mean that I’d want to remove any discussion about divorce from schools. I greatly encourage talking about anything and everything. I see tests as different, though. For example, if you get your blood tested, you obviously don’t want to drink any alcohol before the test, because it’ll mess up your test results. That doesn’t mean that you can’t ever drink any alcohol, it’s just that the doctor wants to make sure that he’s actually testing your blood (and not how hard you partied the night before). He’s not banning alcohol for moral reasons, he just wants a blood test with reliable results. That’s basically how I see the list.

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