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Title: Decathlon Guides Filled with Errors
CONFUSION: California Coaches Sent Letter of Complaint to National Executive. By Jake Finch, Ventura County Star
April 14, 2000
SAN ANTONIO -- James Alvino arrived in Texas this week and found himself surrounded by complaints from California Academic Decathlon coaches, complaints which, he said, are already resolved or will be this weekend.
A letter that the U.S.Academic Decathlon executive director said he has yet to see cited a series of problems in the various studying materials sold by the national organization and used to prepare the students for the season's competitions.
But, Alvino said, changes have already been made to correct the problems, beginning with an intensive expert review of all test materials used in this week's national competition.
"Part of the problem last year was that we did not have control of the process," said Alvino, referring to the development of all the materials. He said he blames an outside contractor for the numerous factual errors discovered throughout the scholastic materials.
This year, Alvino said, was the first year the national organization provided in-depth study guides for the seven objective areas covered by the decathlon: art, economics, language/literature, math, music, physical science and social sciences. The season's theme, "The Sustainable Earth," drew environment-related information from each of these areas.
"Last year, we only had two guides for art and music," Alvino said. "We had some problems with those also."
Alvino said that some of the problems for the math guide, for instance, caused him to reissue it. Other errors, in each of the subject areas, were corrected on the organization's Web site.
The Web site shows well over 100 mistakes in the materials purchased by the schools.
This was a huge problem for the students, Simi Valley High School co-coach Sally Hibbitts said.
"I think the biggest problem (this season) has been the inaccuracy in the study guides," Hibbitts said."The kids would learn the materials and then they would have to relearn it."
Hibbitts said that before all the corrections were posted, students answered questions incorrectly in their scrimmage meets to match the incorrect information in the guides.
Michelle Bergman, coach of last year's national champion team at Moorpark High School, agreed, saying her students found the same problems throughout the material, and they were often unsure how to answer the questions.
"The material this year was so error-ridden, it was so hard for the kids to study," she said.
Bergman cited another complaint -- that the guides are so comprehensive the students don't research the subjects on their own.
"It's slowly turned into just sit in a corner, read and memorize," she said.
Alvino defended the comprehensive guides, saying that with the exception of the California schools, he's heard mostly positive feedback from coaches who said they appreciated how in-depth the study guides were.
"In school districts not as wealthy or without as many resources, (coaches) can't spend the hours it takes to do the research," Alvino said. "It's an issue of equity. The guides put everyone on a level field."
But, Alvino said, next year's test will require more outside research.
This year's tests used an 80/20 ratio of guide knowledge to outside research. Next year, the tests will use the ratio of 50/50.
"It's totally untrue that the guides perpetuate memorization," he said.
Hibbitts and co-coach Ken Hibbitts, her husband, have decided they will not coach the team next year. While the frustration of working through the incorrect materials and internal politics of the organization contributed a little to their decision, they both emphatically said they were quitting the coaching because of the time commitment it required.
-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), April 14, 2000