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Using Decathlon to Rate Schools

March 29, 1998

Phil Chase makes some wonderful and on-target points in his Community Essay (Voices, March 21). Public schools do outperform private schools in the Academic Decathlon. Several of the "100 worst" L.A. public schools do very well in the decathlon. And the list of facts students were required to know is impressive.

However, I would argue that the decathlon is not an appropriate source of comparison for academic excellence. The decathlon involves a very small sample of nine students from each school. Those nine are highly motivated students, even those who are in the C-student category. Such a small sampling can hardly accurately represent the entire curriculum and the caliber of teaching and learning going on in a school, a case in point being that several of the winning decathlon teams come from schools on the "100 worst" list.

Most decathlon coaches will tell you that the content of these tests is highly factual, mostly information that students have been studying not for 10 or 12 years, but for the 10 to 12 months they prepare for the competition. These facts in no way represent common bodies of knowledge.

I am not being critical of the dedicated people who work in these schools. They work valiantly to help predominantly second-language learners overcome many challenges to their learning. I applaud their efforts. But I find it unfair to say that we should compare schools on the basis of their decathlon performance.

I also am not trying to to be critical of decathlons. I started the Catholic school junior high decathlon eight years ago. I see tremendous value in such competitions, but would never argue that the winning school is better than a school that does not do as well.

MARK RYAN

Vice Principal

Pius X-St. Matthias High School

Downey

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