DOE Careful About Word Choice for Standardized Tests

March 28, 2012 Updated: September 14, 2012

NEW YORK—In an effort to help students concentrate more during standardized tests, the Department of Education has a list of topics and words that it advises test makers to avoid.

The list, has been available since 2006 as a source of guidance when creating English and math tests, but the terms are not officially banned from use. The existence of the list recently gained media attention because of words such as dinosaur and Halloween, which many test takers say are not particularly distracting.

“There is no ban on any topic or word in our tests or curriculum,” said DOE spokesperson Matt Mittenthal in a statement. “This is standard practice 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.”

Some of the listed terms do end up appearing on the students’ tests. Companies that create the standardized tests use judgment and consultation with the DOE to determine the appropriateness of flagged words.

The DOE stated that every state has a similar list of words to prevent bias and distraction on tests for public schools. Florida advises words relating to hurricanes and wildfires. California advises against the word weed.