The unlikely villain is Brownie the Cow, a character in a reading comprehension exercise in this year's New York State English language arts exam.
The cow appeared in a parable entitled Why the Rooster Crows at Dawn.
Parents have complained that questions probing Brownie's behaviour would baffle most adults, let alone nine-year-olds.
The New York Times branded the brouhaha "Browniegate". The affair has even spawned its own protest website, set up by parents and teachers, lampooning the questions, which it says show up wider flaws with the test.
The website www.browniethecow.org accuses officials of committing "educational malpractice". But Jonathan Burman, spokesman for New York State education department, leapt to the besieged bovine's defence: "The question was field-tested and kids didn't find it confusing," he said, pointing out that it accounted for just 1.8 of the 43 points available.