NYC: Test Topics Should Avoid Aliens, Halloween

Companies that want to come up with the tests used by the Department of Education to measure student progress are being advised to stay away from a range of topics in the questions they put together

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Tim Boyle, Getty Images

    Creating the assessment test used in the city's public schools might be more complicated than taking it.

    Companies that want to come up with the tests used by the Department of Education to measure student progress are being advised to stay away from a range of topics in the questions they put together. Among the areas on the list of subjects to avoid: Creatures from outer space. Junk food. Vermin. Birthdays.

    The Department of Education included the list in a recently issued request for proposals to create the tests that would be used to measure student progress in math, science, literacy and social studies.

    In creating the questions, the companies are asked to stay away from subjects for reasons including that they "could evoke unpleasant emotions in the students that might hamper their ability to take the remainder of the test in the optimal frame of mind" or "will appear biased against (or toward) some group of people." Or even because "the topic has been 'done to death' in standardized tests or textbooks and is thus overly familiar and/or boring to students."

    Some of the other subjects on the list, first reported by the New York Post, include abuse, terrorism, holidays and Halloween. Companies have until April 23 to submit their proposals.

    A spokeswoman for the department said the list is of topics that are suggested to be avoided, not outright banned, and it's standard language that's been included in proposal requests for some time.

    "There is no ban on any topic in our tests or curriculum," spokeswoman Deidrea Miller said in a statement. "This is standard language that has been used by test publishers for many years and is meant to ensure that tests contain no possible bias or distractions for students."

    New York University education professor Diane Ravitch said it's not confined to the nation's largest city.

    "This is something that testing companies have been doing for a long time," she said.

    Ravitch said the list of subjects to avoid comes from topics someone somewhere around the country, not necessarily in New York, may have objected to. She said, "Nobody in New York City is likely to object to any of these things."

    The request for proposals also covers other areas, such as how long test passages should be and what tenses should be used. In a section on content, it said the material "should be familiar and common in the lives of NYC students."