Who is this Mitchell Chester and why is he so invested in PARCC testing?
Mitchell Chester is the current Commissioner of Education in Massachusetts. Think of that as a district superintendency, but on a state level. He was unanimously selected to be Massachusetts Commissioner of Education in 2008, following a 7-year stint in Ohio as Senior Associate Superintendent for Policy and Accountability in Ohio’s Department of Education. His career path began as an elementary teacher in Connecticut and progressed through various administrative positions at school, district, and state levels. All of which makes for an impressive resume.
However, here is where I think Dr. Chester has gone off the rails: PARCC.
Mitchell Chester currently serves on the PARCC governing board. Up until November 2015 when he was quietly replaced by the Governing Board Member from New Mexico (Hanna Skandera), he was the Chair of this group whose responsibilities include the following, to quote PARCC.org website:
The PARCC consortium Governing Board makes major policy and operational decisions, including decisions related to the overall design of the assessment system, adoption of performance levels for the assessments, and modifications to PARCC’s governance structure and decision-making process, as necessary.
The Commonwealth’s Board of Education was determining whether or not to mandate PARCC as the replacement for MCAS at the same time that Mitchell Chester was seated on the PARCC Governing Board.
Interestingly, Dr. Chester was replaced as Chair of the PARCC Governing Board shortly after Massachusetts declined to use PARCC assessments state-wide.
At the same time Dr. Chester was Chair of the Governing Board at PARCC – the assessment test proposed as the accountability assessment for the Commonwealth. The Pioneer Institute, an independent think tank, outlines reasons that Dr. Chester’s connections to the PARCC Governing Board were problematic in this post from July 2015.
Move forward to November 2015 when the Commonwealth’s Board of Education was to vote on whether or not to commit to PARCC. By this time, it was clear that the public was not in favor of being railroaded into a PARCC commitment. However, miraculously, just as the Board was meeting to make this decision, Dr. Chester was able to come up with a compromise: Massachusetts would create its own assessment to replace MCAS. The new assessment would be called MCAS 2.0 and would be a hybrid of PARCC and MCAS.
Gradually over the next weeks, the independence of MCAS 2.0 from PARCC was whittled away. At first, the new assessment would only have the look and feel of PARCC; the new hybrid assessment would be developed just for Massachusetts. Next came the news that PARCC decided states could purchases/contract some of the PARCC test if the whole was not desired. The decision to allow a la carte test items suspiciously coincided with Massachusetts’ rejection of PARCC as their state-wide assessment.
Questions remain concerning the percentage of PARCC test items to be inserted into PARCC, but I have read percentages ranging from 70% to 90% PARCC. Could MCAS 2.0 just be PARCC with a new name?
For the life of me, I cannot understand how this is not called out as a blatant conflict of interest. While Dr. Chester’s boss, Governor Baker, doesn’t seem to think there is a problem (see WBUR interview and report), the Commissioner’s connections to the PARCC Governing Board seem just a little too cozy.
Here are some weblinks for further reading:
- Amid Concerns, Baker Says Chester Belongs ‘In The Conversation’ On PARCC
- Education Board Votes to Adopt Hybrid MCAS-PARCC Test
- Data vs. Politics: Why Has Commissioner Chester Stepped Back from PARCC?
- Hanna Skandera Is Now PARCC Chair. There Was No Press Release.