Geographic Distribution of Scripps National Spelling Bee Spellers Resembles Geographic Distribution of Child Population in US States upon Implementation of the RSVBee “Wildcard” Program

(1) Franklin Classical School, (2) Vanderbilt University

The Scripps National Spelling Bee (SNSB) is an iconic academic competition for United States (US) schoolchildren, held annually since 1925. Historically, children qualified for the SNSB by winning a sponsored regional spelling bee. However, the sizes and geographic distributions of sponsored regions are uneven. One state may send more than twice as many spellers as another state, despite similar numbers in child population. In 2018, the SNSB introduced a wildcard program known as RSVBee, which allowed students to apply to compete as a national finalist, even if they did not win their regional spelling bee. This allowed more students to compete, but it was unknown how this would affect the geographic distribution of spellers. The purpose of our experiment was to test our hypothesis that the geographic distribution of SNSB national finalists more closely matched the child population of the US after RSVBee was implemented. We compared the number of sponsored (non-RSVBee) national finalists to the US child population from each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, for the years 2012–2019 and found a stable, strong correlation in each year, with correlation coefficients ranging from 0.741–0.774. With RSVBee in 2018 and 2019, we found the correlations increased significantly, with correlation coefficients ranging from 0.916–0.917 for all spellers (p-value = 0.032 by paired t-test). We conclude that the RSVBee program significantly improved the geographic distribution of the SNSB by matching the geographic distribution of SNSB finalists to the child population of the US.

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