TRUTH RATING: 1 of 5
Did a national test “censor God from the Declaration of Independence?”
TRUTH RATING 3 of 5
THE CLAIM:On Monday, the Alabama Republican Party sent an opinion column on education policy to its email listserve. The column, by Elois Zeanah, president of the Alabama Federation of Republican Women, criticized the U.S. Department of Education for “(using) test questions to censor God from the Declaration of Independence.” The column also states that the Department of Education “encourages graphic sex-ed for pre-K.” The column also appeared on the Alabama GOP’s website.
SUMMARY:The sex-ed claim is completely bogus –- and even if it weren’t, it wouldn’t affect policy in Alabama, which doesn’t fund pre-kindergarten, and doesn’t require children to be in school until age 7. The “censoring God” claim has more substance: in a recent, widely administered test, one question did paraphrase the famous “all men are created equal” line, but deleted the reference to people being “endowed by their Creator.”
ANALYSIS: In November 2010, the Alabama Board of Education voted to adopt Common Core Standards. Common Core is a single set of academic standards designed to be used in multiple states, or even nationwide. Though the National Governors Association led the push for Common Core, some conservatives have criticized it as a federal overreach and a violation of states’ rights.
On Monday, the Alabama GOP’s listserve and website featured a column by AFRW president Zeanah, calling for a repeal of the Common Core decision. In the piece, Zeanah said Common Core would give more control of local schools to the U.S. Department of Education.
“DOE decisions go against Alabama values,” she wrote. “For example, DOE uses test questions to censor God from the Declaration of Independence and teach that citizens should have ‘some’ not total control over government. Meanwhile, DOE encourages graphic sex-ed for pre-K.”
The Anniston Star contacted Zeanah to ask for her sources for both claims.
On the “graphic sex ed” claim, Zeanah came up completely dry. She referred The Star to an article on the conservative opinion site EducationNews.com. That article, titled “Bullying –- An Agenda,” attacks Kevin Jennings, the Obama administration's safe-schools czar, for “promot(ing) homosexuality in K-12” education through a new anti-bullying curriculum. Nowhere in the article is there even mention of pre-kindergarten, nor any statement that the Department of Education has a policy of advocating graphic sex ed.
Asked about the lack of support in the piece, Zeanah insisted that graphic sex ed was a creeping problem.
“I just heard about some things they’re doing in New York,” she said. “I don’t have all the details, but they were doing things involving dolls that were truly graphic.”
The Star didn’t find evidence of that, but even if it were true, the state of New York is not the U.S. Department of Education. Incidentally, even if the federal government did recommend explicit sex education in pre-kindergarten, Alabama doesn’t have statewide pre-k, and is one of the few states in which kindergarten is not mandatory. State law requires kids to start school by age 7.
There’s a little more truth to Zeanah’s claim that the federal government “(uses) test questions to censor God from the Declaration of Independence.”
True, it’s a little hard to see how test questions can “censor” references to God.
But Zeanah did point The Star to sample questions from the 2010 edition of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as NAEP, a test that’s administered to some schools across the nation to assess how much students know.
According to sample questions available online, the 2010 test presented students with a passage described as “summary of the introduction to the Declaration of Independence.” The summary reads:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal; that they are given certain rights that cannot be taken away; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to protect these rights, governments are created that get their powers from the consent of the governed.”
Zeanah maintains that the question edits God out of the Declaration of Independence –- and it’s true the passage cuts out references to “endowed by their Creator.”
One of the test’s designers said there’s a reason for the cut, and it has nothing to do with censoring religious beliefs.
“It’s a matter of language simplification,” said Arnold Goldstein, program director for assessment at the National Center for Educational Statistics. “Our rationale was not to eliminate the religious reference, it was to simplify the language for fourth-graders.”
Goldstein said the test question includes a number of changes that would make it more accessible to a fourth-grader. It says “all people are created equal,” Goldstein said, because kids may not know “men” was synonymous with “people.” The phrase “governments are instituted among men” became “governments are created.” Instead of “securing” rights, the passage said “protect” rights, he noted.
Goldstein said the same passage was included, with the original wording, in the eighth-grade version of the test. By eighth grade, he said, students are better able to interpret the 18th-century wording.
It’s worth noting that the question won’t appear in the nationwide test again. NAEP is rewritten with fresh questions every year, and after old questions are revealed to the public, they’re scrapped.
In case you were wondering, only 52 percent of students answered that the passage meant the people should have “some control over government.” Forty-seven percent either got the question wrong or did not answer.
All the 2010 sample test questions are available online at the NCES website.