Our Sage Legal Advice to Massachusetts Sixth-Graders: Sue Arne Duncan

Dubious and far-fetched ideas.
June 6 2014 1:26 PM

Ipswich Middle School Sixth-Graders v. Standardized Tests

Arne Duncan, pay up!

A students takes a test.
I'll be talking to my counsel about this.

Photo by Lisa F. Young/Shutterstock

Last week, two sixth-grade classes in Ipswich, Massachusetts, sent what we lawyers lovingly term a “strongly worded letter” to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan demanding that he and/or major testing companies compensate them for the time they spent trying out a proposed new standardized test. The students were among 81,000 selected at random to test-drive the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test, which required that they devote 150 minutes in March and 150 minutes again in May to taking the test instead of learning math.

As the students’ math teacher, Alan Laroche, later told the local paper, “the kids proceeded to tell me that PARCC is going to be making money from the test, so they should get paid as guinea pigs for helping them out in creating this test.” Genius. One student produced a Google spreadsheet calculating that since “we weren’t paid for anything and we didn’t volunteer for anything," the testing company owed them what members of the bar term “heaps o’ cash” in exchange.

According to the preliminary student calculations, these sixth-graders were owed “$1,628 at minimum wage for their 330 minutes of work,” which, the student helpfully added, could be paid out in “22 new Big Ideas MATH Common Core Student Edition Green textbooks or 8,689 Dixon Ticonderoga #2 pencils.” “Even better,” one student wrote, “this could buy our school 175,000 sheets of 8 ½" by 11" paper, and 270 TI-108 calculators.” The students collected more than 50 signatures for a petition including those of the principal and vice principal. Secretary Duncan has yet to respond.

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While we applaud the initiative of the Ipswich Middle School students, our expert legal opinion is that they could, and should, have asked for much, much more in exchange for the mandatory testing, and done so in the form of a lucrative lawsuit in lieu of a mere petition. Not only should these sixth-graders be paid in papers and No. 2 pencils (you know, supplies necessary for learning that are often purchased by already underpaid teachers from their own meager funds) for their forced servitude, but they should seek what we in the business like to call “dolla dolla bills, yo,” for the great undifferentiated mass of other test-related criminal, civil, and human rights violations, as well as lost economic opportunities not enumerated in their current complaint.

As parents, friends, neighbors, and (hopefully now!) counsel for the entire class of Ipswich children who have devoted much of the month of May to test-driving yet more crap standardized testing, we herein submit a detachable do-it-yourself complaint—suitable for federal, state, and traffic court filing—to cover all contingencies and potential injuries surrounding the mandatory testing regime to which America’s children are relentlessly subjected.  When you are confronted with government officials and administrators who put testing over learning, have hope! Yes, some adults have chosen to inflict this on you, but other adults, some of them lawyers, have had enough!

standardized tests legal document.
standardized tests legal document.
standardized tests legal document.
standardized tests legal document.

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate. Follow her on Twitter.

Jordan Scott is a Boston-based lawyer.