Weird list of topics ‘avoided’ on California high school exit exam

Yes, spiders are on the list. (Ricky Carioti/ The Washington Post )
Yes, spiders are on the list. (Ricky Carioti/ The Washington Post )

How’s this for slightly strange? Here’s a list of topics deemed to be “potentially biased, sensitive, or controversial” that are “avoided” on the California High School Exit Examination, as listed on the California Department of Education Web site.

Look at the list. In California, subjects deemed too controversial for high school seniors to deal include slavery, dieting, war, religion, disease, violence, rodents, junk food and… well, look at the list here. Hmmm.

Thanks to Diane Ravitch for pointing it out on her blog.

  1. What are the guidelines for sensitive topics on the CAHSEE?

To keep the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE) free from potentially biased, sensitive, or controversial content, the following topics are avoided on the examination:

  • Violence (including guns, other weapons, and graphic animal violence)
  • Dying, death, disease, hunger, famine
  • War
  • Natural disasters with loss of life
  • Drugs (including prescription drugs), alcohol, tobacco, smoking
  • Junk food
  • Abuse, poverty, running away
  • Divorce
  • Socio-economic advantages (e.g., video games, swimming pools, computers in the home, expensive vacations)
  • Sex
  • Religion
  • Complex discussions of sports
  • Slavery
  • Evolution, prehistoric times, age of solar system, dinosaurs
  • Rap music, rock concerts
  • Extrasensory perception, witchcraft
  • Halloween, religious holidays
  • Anything disrespectful, demeaning, moralistic, chauvinistic
  • Children coping with adult situations or decisions; young people challenging or questioning authority
  • Mention of individuals who may be associated with drug use or with advertising of substances such as cigarettes or alcohol
  • Losing a job, home, or pets
  • Rats, roaches, lice, spiders
  • Dieting, other concerns with self-image
  • Political issues
  • Any topic that is likely to upset students and affect their performance on the rest of the test

It is important to note that these guidelines are applied in the context of the purpose of the test as well as the overall passage or item. For example, some topics (e.g., the socio-economic advantages) may be mentioned in a text, although an entire passage would not focus on these topics.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · March 20, 2014