The United States Academic Decathlon (USAD; often abbreviated to AD, Acadeca, Acadec, AcDec, or AcDc) is one of the premier academic competitions for high school students in the United States. It consists of seven multiple choice tests, two performance events and an essay. The Academic Decathlon was created by Dr. Robert Peterson in Orange County, California for local schools in 1968 and was expanded to a nation-wide setting in 1981. In that inaugural year, 17 states and the District of Columbia vied for the first national title. As of 2008, the number of competing states sits at 42.
A unique aspect of the Academic Decathlon is that it is designed to include students from all academic abilities and achievement levels. Teams consist of nine members, who are divided in three categories based on grade point average: Honors (3.75–4.0 GPA), Scholastic (3.00–3.74 GPA), and Varsity (0.00–2.99 GPA). Each team member competes in all ten events against other students in his/her division. Overall team scores are calculated using the top two individual scores from each division. Gold, silver, and bronze medals are awarded for each individual event as well as overall scores. To earn a spot at the national event in April, teams must advance through local, regional, and state levels of competition. The reigning national champion is Moorpark High School from Ventura, California.
The ten events require talents from all forms of academia. Students must take seven multiple choice tests in Art, Economics, Language and Literature, Math, Music, Science and Social Science. These topics, with the exception of Math, are all tied together by a theme each year. For the 2008–2009 season, the theme is Latin America. Each year, one of the multiple choice events, usually Science or Social Science, becomes the Super Quiz. The Super Quiz topic generally becomes the focus of that year's theme. In addition to the seven objective events, there are three events graded by judges: Essay, Interview and Speech.
Over the years, there have been various small controversies in the world of Academic Decathlon. The most famous is the scandal involving Steinmetz High School of Chicago, Illinois. The school was caught cheating at the 1995 Illinois state finals. The story was dramatized in 2000 in the film Cheaters.
The original Academic Decathlon was organized differently from its current structure. Initially, the ten events were Economics, Essay, Fine Arts, Interview, Language and Literature, Math, Science, Social Science, Speech and Super Quiz. It was not until 1998 that Fine Arts was split into its two constituent tests: Art and Music. Due to the division of the Fine Arts event, Super Quiz now had to take the place of one of the subjects each year. In 1998, Super Quiz replaced, for the first and last time, Economics; 1999 and 2000 both featured Science-based Super Quizzes, and in 2001 and 2002 Super Quiz was Social Science based. From 2003 to the present, the Super Quiz has alternated between Science and Social Science.
In addition to shuffling subjects around, USAD has changed the amount of personal research required by students. From the Academic Decathlon's inception until the 1998–1999 season, students performed all their own research for each event. Because of this, test writers did not have to base their questions on material USAD published. However, this policy changed at the beginning of the 1999–2000 school year, and required that all test questions come strictly from USAD supplied materials. With the change in policy came a change in scores. Records were being set all across the country. That year at Nationals, James E. Taylor High School had the highest team score yet seen at the national competition: 52,470. In addition to the change in stance on personal research, Math saw a change in subject matter. Previously, it was founded in the principles of algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. However, for the 1999, 2000 and 2001 curricula, topics such as fractal geometry, chaotic dynamics, logic and set theory, and general statistics were used. In 2002, Math returned to its roots and again focused on algebra, geometry, trigonometry and differential calculus.
A team typically consists of 9 competitors: three honors, three scholastic and three varsity. However, since only the top two scores from each category count towards the team's total score, a team can compete with as few as six students. Students may compete in a higher category than the one they are assigned to, but generally it is to the students' advantage to compete in the lowest category they can. This is because the scores in Varsity are typically lower than those in Scholastic, and those in Scholastic are typically lower than those in Honors. For instance, a student with a GPA of 2.8 normally competes in the Varsity category, but has the ability to compete as a Scholastic or Honors. Conversely, an Honors student cannot compete as a Scholastic or a Varsity.
The events are split up into two groups: the seven objective tests (Art, Economics, Language and Literature, Math, Music, Science and Social Science) and the three subjective events (Essay, Interview and Speech). They are designated as such because the former seven are multiple choice tests, whereas the latter three are graded by judges. Students are given half an hour to answer each multiple choice exam. These exams consist of 50 questions, with the exception of Math and Super Quiz which have 35 and 40 questions respectively.
The competition format of the Super Quiz differs from that of the other subject areas. It was added in 1969 to add a championship feel to culminate the event. The Super Quiz consists of a 40 question multiple choice test as well as an oral relay. This is generally referred to as the Super Quiz Relay, and is unique in that it is the only event viewable to the general public. The relay starts with the varsity students answering their questions first. The scholastic division follows with the honors students going last. Each group of students is given 5 or 10 questions, depending on the format decided by the state coordinator. These questions are read aloud to the audience and are printed or projected for the competitors. After the questions and answers are read, the students are allowed seven seconds to select the correct answer. The answer is checked on the spot by a judge, and scores are immediately displayed to the audience.
|2009||Latin America||Evolutionary Biology|
|2008||History of the Civil War||The Civil War|
|2007||China and Its Influence on the World||An Introduction to Climatology|
|2006||The European Renaissance: Renewal and Reform||The European Renaissance: Renewal and Reform|
|2005||Exploring the Ancient World||From Empty Space to Incredible Universe: The Sky Is Not the Limit|
|2004||America: The Growth of a Nation||The Lewis and Clark Expedition|
|2003||Understanding the Natural World||The Blue Planet: Beneath the Surface|
|2002||Understanding Others||E-communication: The Internet & Society|
|2001||Understanding the Self||Concepts of the Self: Philosophy, Psychology, and Religion|
|2000||Looking Forward: Creating the Future||Sustainable Earth|
|1999||Looking Inward: Developing a Sense of Meaning||The Brain|
|1998||Looking Outward: Forces Shaping Society||Globalization: The New Economy|
|1997||Communication and Culture||The Information Revolution|
|1996||Competition and Cooperation||The United Nations: Competition and Cooperation|
|1995||Health, Wellness, and Biotechnology||Biotechnology: The Next Frontier|
|1994||Documents of Freedom|
|1993||A Diversity of Achievers|
|1990||American Indians: Our American Heritage|
|1989||The U.S. Presidency|
|1988||The History of Flight|
|1987||We The People: The Constitution of the United States|
|1986||Immigration to the United States|
|1984||The Olympic Games|
|Subject||Percentage of Resource Guide-Based Items per Test||Percentage of Research-Based Items per Test|
|Language and Literature1||N/A||N/A|
USAD publishes study materials for all the objective events (nothing is provided for Essay, Interview or Speech), with the sale of the materials supporting the program. USAD publishes a variety of study materials, but the Resource Guides and the Basic Guides make up the majority of the USAD corpus. An art reproduction booklet and music CD contain that year's relevant pieces and are issued separately from the Resource Guides. Study Guides are also published and contain detailed topical outlines for each objective subject. These outlines specifically indicate which topics will require independent research beyond the Resource Guides.
Resource Guides are offered in Art, Economics, Language and Literature, Music, Science / Social Science, and Super Quiz. The Super Quiz Resource Guide is a compendium of previously published articles, whereas the other Resource Guides are written by individual writers under contract with USAD. The aim of the Resource Guide is to assist students in their study of the topics listed in the subject area outlines. As an example, in 2003 the Music topic was Romantic music. Subsequently the Music Resource Guide focused on the development of Romantic music, its characteristics and the influence of the Classical era on the Romantic era. A large part of the guide focused on information about that year's composers: Beethoven, Berlioz, Rossini, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Verdi, Mussorgsky, Wagner, Bizet, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Mahler and Strauss. Similarly, the Art topic being studied was Romantic art in the European tradition. The Art Resource Guide included sections detailing the lives and works of relevant artists such as Joseph Mallord William Turner, Claude Monet, Albert Bierstadt,and Camille Pissarro.
Basic Guides are issued for the independent research that, unlike the Resource Guides, remains the same from year to year. The Art Basic Guide focuses on art fundamentals, looking at the elements of art, principles of composition and different 2-d and 3-d techniques. Additionally, a brief introduction to art history is included. The Economics Basic Guide reviews fundamental economic concepts in addition to the basics of macroeconomics and microeconomics. The Language and Literature Basic Guide provides students with a basic grounding in the analysis of literature, as well as introducing a slew of key terms such as synecdoche, metonymy, assonance, and aphorism. The Math Basic Guide offers a general overview of major topics in high school math, including algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus, and statistics. The Music Basic Guide starts off introducing the student to topics in music theory such as harmonics, rhythm, tempo and the circle of fifths. It also includes information on a wide variety of instruments and a brief history of Western style music.
Each of the Academic decathlon’s ten events is evenly weighted at 1,000 points for a possible 10,000 point individual total. Only the top two scores from Honors, Scholastic and Varsity are counted for the team score making 60,000 the maximum overall. With the exception of Math and Super Quiz, the objective tests have 50 items. The raw score for these tests is converted to 1,000 points with each question worth 20 points. The Math event has 35 items which breaks down to 40 points per question. The Super Quiz written test contains 40 questions, each worth 15 points. Depending on the state director, the oral Super Quiz contains either 5 or 10 questions, each worth 80 or 40 points respectively. Perfect scores of 1,000 in events are recorded regularly, and there have been cases of 10+ way ties at competitions because of perfect and near perfect scores. Gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded in each event and for each category (Honors, Scholastic, and Varsity). All ties are awarded medals.
The Interview and Speech events are graded by two to three judges. The scores from the judges are averaged to give a maximum of 1,000 points per event. The Essay is graded with a rubric, and is read by two different judges whose scores are then averaged. If the difference between the judges' scores differs by 200 points or more, then a third reader is asked to grade the student's essay. The two scores that are closest in value are averaged to give the final score.
A benchmark for the Decathlon elite is obtaining an individual score of over 9,000 points. It was not until 1992, 24 years after the program's inception, that Tyson Rogers achieved this feat at the National competition. Since then, numerous students have broken the 9,000 point barrier. The current highest individual score is 9,321, achieved by Alli Blonski from Waukesha West, Wisconsin at the 2008 national competition. State champion scores vary greatly from year to year. As an example, for the 2002–2003 season, scores ranged from 24,785 to 49,910 points. National champion scores have been as low as 45,857.0 points and as high as 53,119.4 points. The 53,119.4 score produced by the 2008 Moorpark High School team stands as the record for the highest team score.
Previous Catholic Memorial High School coach John Burke was at the center of a dispute over the results of the 2003 Wisconsin state final. Confusion arose over a Catholic Memorial student's essay after the results of the competition were released. Burke contested that there was a possibility that the essay had been scored incorrectly as it had received 390 points out of a possible 1000. The Catholic Memorial coach was well within his rights to contest the score; however USAD official, Gerhard Fischer, said that the way the appeal was handled was "highly questionable." The coach was disciplined for the way he dealt with the situation; however, parents of Catholic Memorial students believed the penalty was due to personality differences between coach Burke and Academic Decathlon officials. The dissension eventually led to a more thorough investigation of previous issues involving Burke. He was accused of "[m]ore than a year of repeated 'attacks' on another school's pupils, including allegations of cheating on tests and ineligibility. All of these things factored into Wisconsin Academic Decathlon's final decision on the situation. Burke was banned from coaching for three years and Catholic Memorial was barred from competition for a year.