History of USAD

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In 1968, Dr. Robert Dea Peterson, Orange County Superintendent of Schools, presented a plan for a ten-event competition for the county's public and private schools. Six academic areas (math, science, English, aesthetics [fine arts], practical arts, and social sciences) would be combined with four performance events (speech, essay, interview, and extracurricular activities) in an effort to recognize outstanding academic achievement among Honors, Scholastic, and Varsity competitors. Dr. Peterson was honored by the county supervisor with a certificate of achievement for his novel concept.1,2

The first competition took place on November 29, 1968, at Bolsa Grande High School. Twenty of the approximately 50 high schools in the county fielded teams totaling 103 seniors. County Schools Office specialists wrote the tests, and about 50 judges helped score the performance events. Awards were presented on December 5 at Disneyland Hotel; an expense-paid trip to Sacramento and a visit to the Legislature, trophies, and other prizes were awarded.1,2,3

In the second year, the nonprofit Orange County Academic Decathlon Corporation sponsored the November 28 competition, which was expanded to all upperclassmen.3 In the third year, forty schools competed (nineteen with full teams for the team award), and six $100 scholarships were presented in addition to the six Legislature trips. In 1971, a grand jury announced that the Orange County Department of Education was no longer necessary, as all of its functions were already covered by the school districts or the state; the jury recommended that OCAD Corp. continue to control the competition, with no OCDE staff used for the Academic Decathlon.5. The fifth year of competition welcomed 45 teams.

The program spread rapidly throughout the states;USAD was founded in 1981.


  1. "Plan Decathlon for Scholars of Orange Schools." Press-Telegram. 1968-05-28.
  2. Geivet, Bob. "Students Compete for Orange County Academic Honors." Independent. 1968-11-28.
  3. "Second Academic Decathlon." Press-Telegram. 1969-11-05.
  4. "Orange Co. Scholars to Compete." Independent Press-Telegram. 1970-10-24.
  5. Geivet, Bob. "Education department not needed, says Orange Co. jury." Independent. 1971-12-27.


From 1982 to 1997, the Academic Decathlon had the following ten subjects:

Subjects of the United States Academic Decathlon, 1982-1997
Event # Questions % Research Notes
Economics 50 100% High school textbooks sufficient for all but the special focus section
Essay - 100% Based on theme or Language and Literature; 3 or 4 prompts
Fine Arts 50 100% 25 art questions, 25 music questions; reproductions book and CD available
Interview - - Training video tape available
Language & Literature 50 100% 30% on poetry
Math 50 100% High school textbooks sufficient for all questions
Science 50 100%
Social Science 50 100%
Speech - 100% Training video tape available
Super Quiz 50 0% All questions come from the Resource Guide


Subject test changes[edit]

In 1998, USAD replaced the Fine Arts test with two separate tests, Art and Music, and began the tradition of replacing another test with the Super Quiz. In 1998, the Super Quiz was, for the first and last time, Economics; 1999 and 2000 both featured a Science-based Super Quiz, and 2001 and 2002 both featured a Social Science-based Super Quiz. From 2003 to present, the Super Quiz has alternated between Science and Social Science.


For a list of USAD themes and Super Quiz topics, see Curriculum Topics.

In addition, 1998 saw the advent of a three-year theme series: "Looking Outward," "Looking Inward," and "Looking Forward." The series was deemed successful enough to create another framework, entitled "Dimensions of Understanding": "Understanding the Self," "Understanding Others," and "Understanding the Natural World." Starting with the 2004 year, however, the themes began to take a more historical and multi-cultural view, ranging from China to the Ancient World.

Third-Party Materials[edit]

In the 1990s, various companies were set up to research subjects and provide practice tests to teams, notably Acalon and DemiDec. In 2000, USAD made an unprecedented move towards elimination of research materials providors - all testable information was provided by USAD in Resource Guides. It is unclear why USAD discontinued this change (perhaps the extremely high scores were factors), but from 2001 to present, Resource Guides have provided only a portion of testable material, with the rest requiring research. The third-party companies survived, with DemiDec as the dominant provider of such materials.


After rampant math score inflation at the 2003 and 2004 state and nationals competitions, USAD shifted from a 25-question math test to a 35-question math test, starting at the 2005 national competition. The worst extent of math score inflation can be seen in the number of medalists at the 2004 Texas state finals (over 60) and the 2004 national finals (over 50).

Other changes[edit]

Main article: USAD Survey

USAD occasionally surveys students and coaches to improve the nationals competition, curriculum, or testing.

Famous (Infamous) Cheating and Penalty Incidents[edit]

  1. Charles P. Steinmetz Academic Centre (Steinmetz High School) - 1995 Illinois State Championship [article] - All students on the team had test answers and some judged others' subjective events. The school was disqualified from national competition. This incident was later made into an HBO movie entitled Cheaters which starred Jeff Daniels, Jena Malone, and Paul Sorvino. [Wikipedia Entry]
  2. J. Frank Dobie High School - 2002 Texas State Championship [article] - The penalty given to one student for incorrectly following directions cost the team the State Championship.
  3. William Howard Taft High School - 2008 California State Championship - The penalty given to one student for incorrectly following directions cost the student a first-place finish.

External links[edit]