June 13, 2023

Scripps National Spelling Bee: Celebrating American Academic Excellence

By: Frances Floresca

Just after Dev Shah correctly spelled the word “psammophile” at the Scripps National Spelling Bee earlier this month, he was declared the champion of the competition. 

His victory was the denouement of the long and challenging journey it took for him to make it to that moment.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee has been running for almost 100 years, and it has captivated millions of people around the country watching these young students display their skills and talents. 

The academic competition has defied the relentless tide of declining academic standards and has even become more difficult over the years. 

Previously, competitors only had spelling rounds on the stage. In 2002, the Bee introduced a preliminary spelling test to determine which spellers advanced. Over time, the rules underwent further modifications, which have also included multiple choice vocabulary questions. 

The Scripps Bee decided they wanted to improve the competition to be more challenging for the spellers, but it was also to help “students improve their spelling, increase their vocabularies, learn concepts and develop correct English usage that will help them all their lives.”

It is more than just memorization or luck of the draw. Many of the words can be figured out by understanding language of origin, combining forms and root woods, definitions, part of speech, and root words. 

While I never made it to the national level, I had the opportunity to assist spellers who made it to nationals, and I even have friends who made it to the championship finals of the competition.I even almost made it to the Scripps Bee and even won other competitions unrelated to it. 

It was truly an honor and an enriching experience seeing these spellers embrace the learning, by understanding where our words come from and developing life-long skills. As a testament to the Bee’s impact, many participants have achieved remarkable success, both academically and professionally, and they have leveraged their learning habits from participation in the Scripps Bee. 

The Scripps Bee may be a symbol of American academic excellence, but we unfortunately see  a decline in educational standards, due to pressures from bureaucrats. 

ACT scores have been declining, but grades are increasing. Why? 

Many school districts around the country have implemented policies that only allow certain scores to be the lowest grade possible, such as 50% in Clark County School District in Nevada,  and they have prohibited teachers from penalizing students for late work.

Just like when it comes to choosing a school, policies for students should not be a one-size-fits-all solution, and of course there are students who will need extra help. These policies can disincentivize students from working hard. 

The Bee has consistently demonstrated that success knows no boundaries when it comes to race, ethnicity, or gender. Virtually all races, and girls and boys, have ranked high or won the competition. 

As one of the few remaining educational institutions celebrating academic excellence, hopefully the Bee does not succumb to pressures to lower standards. Competitions like this need to remain merit-based to inspire young students to thrive, not just at school, but in the real world for many years to come.