The California Academic Decathlon Board met recently in the ACSA Sacramento offices to undertake a discussion on expanding its competition both nationally and internationally.
ACSA Assistant Executive Director Joseph Jones is currently the president of the United States Academic Decathlon Board. He noted California has an outstanding state program.
“We are thrilled with the success of the decathlon here in California, as well as throughout the United States,” Jones said. “Our goal this year is to expand the Academic Decathlon to districts throughout California and the rest of the country.”
The decathlon promotes an educational experience in which teams of nine high school students compete in academic events. The competition components include art, music, language and literature, social science, science, mathematics, economics, speech, interview and essay.
All California public and private high schools may compete in the decathlon. There are approximately 13,000 students throughout the state taking part. The makeup of each of the nine-member teams must include three “A” students, three “B” students, and three “C” or below students.
Ken Scarberry, director of youth development at the Solano COE, is the executive director of the California Academic Decathlon. He said schools should already be thinking about getting the process going if they want to compete. “Some schools will start as early as March or April of the previous year,” he said. “On average, schools generally begin at the beginning of the school year.”
The first step to take if a school is interested is to compete at the regional level. Simply contact the list of local coordinators on the CAD website to get the ball in motion. If a person wishes to volunteer before the State Championship held in Sacramento March 15-16, 2013, they should contact their Academic Decathlon coordinator at www.academicdecathlon.org.
There is some cost to schools to participate. Scarberry explained that what are called “active” counties support the program with a sliding charter fee. This entitles the county to the testing materials to coordinate two levels of competition before state. It also includes direct support from CAD, such as technical support and operational guidance. Also, it entitles counties to enter more than one school to participate at the state championship (assuming the team score is high enough). There is also a team registration fee to attend the state championship.
Scarberry said the benefits far exceed the costs. “The Academic Decathlon is a coherent and comprehensive competition designed to engage high school students from all levels of academic achievement,” he said. “With more than 13,000 high school students participating throughout California, students not only build lasting friendships, they develop leadership and new skills that help them excel academically and socially.”
LAUSD’s Tom Waldman, director of media and communications, echoed those thoughts. LAUSD has been a regular participant in the decathlon, and Waldman said it has been a huge benefit to students.
“The decathlon has given so many students the opportunity to shine and excel, and to learn rigorous study methods that will serve them in their high school life and college,” he said.
Waldman noted the district is currently filming the process the Franklin High School team is going through as it prepares for the decathlon. He said the team studies for three hours each day after school, and as the decathlon nears that will go up to four hours a day. The subject they chose is Russia, so the students are immersing themselves in that country’s culture, music, history, language and arts.
Since national competition began in 1982, California has performed in a superior manner, winning 17 national titles and posting 11 second place finishes. LAUSD schools have a lot to live up to, since LAUSD has performed very well in decathlon competition. This year, the district had four of the top five schools in state competition. It swept the top three positions in Division 1, and had a team in the top three in Division 2. In the Super Quiz section it had the top four school teams. And LAUSD’s Granada Hills Charter High School won the U.S. Academic Decathlon.
“We are the Los Angeles Lakers of the academic world,” Waldman joked, adding seriously: “Every year there is an expectation we will do well.”
Since its inception, the California state champion has come in first or second place every year at nationals except for in 1992. In 27 years of national competition, California has placed first 15 times and second place 11 times. It has placed in the top two every year but one. California currently holds the highest historical team score in the nation, and state schools have been the National Champions for the last six years.
There is certainly room for more California schools to participate and earn honors for the students.
“I would encourage ACSA members to take a careful and serious look at this wonderful program and help us to grow to new heights,” Jones said. “We are available to help you get started.”
Upcoming dates of concern include: Feb. 13, regional competition statewide; March 14-17, state competition, Sacramento; April 2013, national finals, Minneapolis, Minn.
More information can be found at www.usad.org.