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The Academic Decathlon (also called AcaDec, AcaDeca or AcDec) is the only annual high school academic competition organized by the non-profit United States Academic Decathlon Association (USAD). The competition consists of seven multiple choice tests, two performance events, and an essay. Academic Decathlon was created by Robert Peterson in 1968 for local schools in Orange County, California and expanded nationwide in 1981 by Robert Peterson, William Patton, first President of the new USAD Board and Phillip Bardos, Chairman of the new USAD Board. That year, 17 states and the District of Columbia participated, a number that has grown to include most of the United States and some international schools. Mr. Patton and Mr. Bardos served on the board in these two executive positions for the first 10 years of the USAD and not only personally contributed significantly both financially and in personal effort to the organization in those early day when there were no corporate sponsors they, along with Robert Peterson, were the major three factors in bringing corporate sponsors to the program during these challenging growth years eventually resulting in a financially self sustaining organization. In 2015 Academic Decathlon held its first ever International competition in Shanghai, China. Once known as United States Academic Decathlon, on March 1, 2013, it began operating as the Academic Decathlon.
Academic Decathlon is designed to include students from all achievement levels. Teams generally consist of nine members, who are divided into three divisions based on grade point average: Honors (3.75–4.00 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 or her division, and team scores are calculated using the top two overall individual scores from each team in all three divisions. Gold, silver, and bronze medals are awarded for individual events and for overall scores. To earn a spot at the national competition in April, teams must advance through local, regional, and state competitions, though some levels of competition may be bypassed for smaller states. Online competitions, separated into small, medium, and large categories, are also offered. USAD has expanded to include an International Academic Decathlon and has created an Academic Pentathlon for middle schools.
The ten events require knowledge in many academic disciplines. 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 thematically linked each year. One of the multiple choice events, alternating between science or social science, is chosen for the Super Quiz. In addition to the seven objective events, there are three subjective events graded by judges: essay, interview and speech.
Over the years, there have been various small controversies, the most infamous being the scandal involving the Steinmetz High School team, which was caught cheating at the 1995 Illinois state finals. This event was later dramatized in the 2000 film Cheaters. Academic Decathlon has been criticized by educators for the amount of time it requires students to spend on the material, as it constitutes an entire curriculum beyond the one provided by the school. Around the turn of the millennium, several coaches protested the USAD’s decision to publish error-ridden Resource Guides rather than provide topics for students to research.

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