The Washington Post

50-plus banned words on standardized tests

You might expect a standardized test to avoid using profane words but, it turns out, other words are banned too and they may surprise you: dinosaur and Halloween, rock ‘n roll and rap music, just to name a few.

That, at least, is what New York City education officials recently did when they provided guidance to standardized test developers, according to the New York Post . The words on the banned list (see below) were chosen because they supposedly could distract some students.

To be fair, New York City isn’t the only place that does this. Florida and Texas, for example, avoid words such as “hurricane” on their standardized assessments.

Why Halloween? Its pagan roots could offend the religious. Dinosaurs? Evokes evolution, which could upset creationists. You get the point.

What is there to say about people who think up words to keep off tests to avoid upsetting people, when it is the very tests themselves — and the high stakes put on the results — that people actually find so offensive?

Here’s the list, according to

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)


Children dealing with serious issues

Cigarettes (and other smoking paraphernalia)

Computers in the home (acceptable in a school or library setting)


Death and disease



Expensive gifts, vacations, and prizes

Gambling involving money



Homes with swimming pools


Junk food

In-depth discussions of sports that require prior knowledge

Loss of employment

Nuclear weapons

Occult topics (i.e. fortune-telling)





Rap Music


Religious holidays and festivals (including but not limited to Christmas, Yom Kippur, and Ramadan)

Rock-and-Roll music

Running away




Television and video games (excessive use)

Traumatic material (including material that may be particularly upsetting such as animal shelters)

Vermin (rats and roaches)


War and bloodshed

Weapons (guns, knives, etc.)

Witchcraft, sorcery, etc.

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Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.

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