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National Spelling Bee adds vocabulary knowledge to competition

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What is the meaning of “hacienda”?

Competitors at this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., might have to know. They will have their vocabulary tested for half of their overall score in a recently announced change.

However, this will not change much for regional spelling champion Dylan J. O’Connor, Alexandria Central School sixth-grader, a participant in the national competition set for May 28 to 30.

“As a part of Dylan’s study, we usually look up the meaning of them,” said his father, Michael J. O’Connor. “We’ll end up doing more of it.”

He said Dylan already uses dictionary applications on his smartphone or Kindle to look up any word he does not know when studying for the bee.

Dylan went to the national competition last year, and his father said he is excited about going back. “This year, he’d like to get to the semifinals,” Mr. O’Connor said.

In addition to being tested on vocabulary knowledge in the preliminary and semifinal rounds, spellers will have a 45-minute time limit to finish the computer-based testing, according to a news release. There was no time limit in previous competitions.

Additionally, spellers will leave the competition if they misspell a word in round two or three in the preliminary rounds.

“In previous years, the computer-based test was only part of the Preliminaries,” according to the release.

Dawn D. Ludovici, Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Education Services assistant superintendent of programs, said she tries to follow Scripps’ rules for local spelling bees when planning the regional competition in March.

“At this point, I don’t know what we’ll do, but we’ll certainly look into it,” she said. “If we were to move to that, we’d get the word out to folks sooner.”

The decision was made after all regional competitions were finished to give all competitors a fair amount of time to study for the changes, according to the statement.

Mrs. Ludovici said the decision could have been made because of Race to the Top — a U.S. Department of Education contest for competitive grants — and the common core implementation to align education standards, both of which are creating curriculum changes throughout the nation.

She was also unsure if the change would affect the types of questions the speller can ask the announcer during the competition.

“It’s always been a part of the verbal spelling that a student ask the announcer the definition of the word,” she said. “I’ll be curious to know if that’ll be impacted.”

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