Two decades of the Most Powerful Science Olympiad High Schools
Posted June 19, 2019 by Joshua neubert
Science competitions take many forms. From the research fair to the quizbowl, these competitions highlight many different skills across scientific disciplines. For the past 35 years, Science Olympiad has been crowning the top schools at their regional, state, and national tournaments. Each year, 8,000 teams compete to see who can claim the title of the best young scientists across multiple disciplines.
At ICS we study academic competitions, and help organizations run the best programs for students of all ages. With the recent end of the 2018-19 school year, many of these competitions have also concluded their national or international championships. With the Science Olympiad national tournament wrapping up on June 1st, it’s the perfect time to take a look at a historical analysis of the winners.
We wanted to know which states have topped the charts the most? Which schools have been dominant over the years? Which underdogs have unseated the dynasties? And who is going to win next year? To answer these questions (and more) we analyzed the results of the past 20 years of Science Olympiad’s national tournament high school level competition (Division C). This is what we found.
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Dominated by Dynasties
Over the last 20 years, there have been 38 schools that have made it to the top 10 podium of Science Olympiad (out of 8000 annually participating teams according to the website); however, the national stage has been dominated by just 6 schools at the top spot. And of those 6, only 4 schools have hit #1 more than once. In fact, Troy High school in Fullerton, CA, Solon High School in Solon, OH, Harriton High School in Rosemont, PA, and Centerville High School in Centerville, OH have taken the top spot at nationals 18 out of the last 20 years. This is an incredible dominance over the field of what is now more than 8,000 teams! But the true picture of Science Olympiad Dynasties is even more nuanced than that.
To help evaluate the power of each school we use the ICS award points system to put a numerical value to a school’s placements each year. A 1st place award earns the team 1000 points, 2nd place 750 points, 3rd place 500 points, 4th place 250, and 5th through 10th places earn 100 points each. With this information we can analyze in more depth the level of dominance from all of the Science Olympiad Dynasties and rank them over the years.
Defining a Dynasty
The most basic way we can evaluate the most dominant Science Olympiad Dynasties is to rank them on their overall award points summed across all the years. This gives us 12 schools that have hit the completely arbitrarily picked 1000 or more award points from the past 20 years. But this doesn’t really tell us a lot about the school or the relative power of the team.
From the graph we can see there’s a more natural break between Mira Loma (2700 award points) and Mounds View schools (1250 award points) with 7 schools above this mark. This is an improvement in defining the dominant teams, but still somewhat arbitrary. In fact, looking at the entire 20 years itself is quite arbitrary. Yes, its nice to see who has had the most power in the top 10 of the Science Olympiad tournament over 20 years, but it doesn’t really mean much.
What we’ve found to be more interesting and enlightening is to look at four-year power-rankings. Over any four-year period, who was the most dominant. This ties the school’s performance to the life-cycle of the students during each four-year period. It also uncovers interesting trends in identifying which schools were powerful during which period, as can be seen in the graph below.
This is one of my favorite charts from all of the academic competitions we’ve analyzed to date. It shows a beautiful ebb and flow of power between the top 4 dynasty schools along with a number of others that have been jockeying to move into the upper ranks. But before we get into the real analysis, we need to define what specifically makes a “dynasty."
To officially define “Dynasty” we could use the four-year ICS award points, but we find it better to put official quantities to it. So, we’ve defined an academic competition dynasty as a team that has been in the top 10 at least three years in a row with at least one of those years being in the top 3 spots. Being a dynasty doesn’t mean that you’re dominating the #1 spot every year, but it does mean that you’re consistently hitting high-level placements – a feat that is still very difficult, as we’ll see in the analysis below.
With this definition in hand, we can specifically evaluate which schools have hit “dynasty” status, and we can rank the strength or power of their dynasty! For the Science Olympiad national tournament there have been 9 official dynasties over the past 20 years with an additional 6 schools noted as honorable mentions. Here's the list.
Honorable Mentions: Science Olympiad Near-Dynasties:
- New Trier High School 2009-2013 (500 award points): this school had a strong run in the top 10 for 5 years. New Trier High School missed official dynasty status by just 2 placements, coming in 5th place in 2012 when they needed at least one 3rd or higher placement. If they hit 3rd instead of 5th, they would have had a five-year dynasty with at least 900 award points, but don’t count this school out of dynasty status in the future, they hit 8th place in 2019.
- West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South 2011-2014 (700 award points): missed 2013 by just 2 places, coming in 12th. If West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South came in 10th or above in 2013 they would have had a four-year dynasty of at least 800 award points. Though they haven’t made the top 10 in the last few years, they did hit 14th in 2019, is a resurgence coming?
- Seven Lakes High School 2013-2016 (700 award points): missed top 10 in 2015 by 3 places coming in 13th. If Seven Lakes High School hit top 10 that year, they would have had a four-year dynasty with at least 800 award points. Seven Lakes High School has been in the top 10 the past two years, so they have a shot at Dynasty status in 2020!
- Penncrest High School 2006-2011 (750 award points): missed being in the top 3 by one place in 2010, coming in 4th. If Penncrest High School made 3rd place instead, they would have had a six-year dynasty with at least 1000 award points.
- Mason High School 2018-2019 (1000 award points): this school’s dynasty story is really just beginning, and it’s starting out strong! Mason High School has a shot at making Dynasty level in 2020 because in 2018 and 2019 they have hit 2nd and 4th places respectively. If they hit anywhere in the top 10 next year, they’ll be starting out on a great dynasty with at least 1100 award points!
- Prairie High School 2002-2006 (1100 award points): this school nearly had a fairly high ranked dynasty lasting five-years. Prairie High School only missed the top 10 in 2004 by two places coming in 12th. If they came in 10th or higher, they would have had a dynasty with at least 1200 award points. They haven’t made the top 10 since 2006, but this doesn’t mean they can’t start a new run at a dynasty in 2020!
Power Rankings for 20 years of Science Olympiad Dynasties:
#9 Liberal Arts and Science Academy 2015-2017 (700 award points): this school is right on the edge of being in “dynasty” status, and in fact, several of the honorable mentions have more award points than this dynasty did. But that doesn’t lower the fact that they made it as an official Dynasty! The Liberal Arts and Science Academy managed to make dynasty status by hitting 3rd place in 2015 and making the top 10 in 2016 and 2017. This is no easy feat, given that only 9 schools in the 20 year history have accomplish it. At their peak four-year period (2015-18), they were the 5th most powerful team.
#8 Mounds View High School 2013-2018 (1250 award points): this school hit a six-year dynasty coming in at 2nd place at its height in 2014. The Mounds View High School dynasty is a relatively new one and nearly was open ended to continue, missing that mark in 2019 when they came in 17th. Mounds View High school is also notable because their presence on the top 10 leaderboard is relatively a new phenomenon, having never been on the top 10 podium prior to 2013. At Mounds View’s peak period (2014-2017) it was the #4 most powerful team.
#7 Fayetteville-Manlius High School 2004 – 2010 (1900 award points): this school is in a truly unique crowd, being just one of 6 to take a 1st place Science Olympiad trophy home in any year during the past 2 decades. Fayetteville-Manlius High School has also tucked another powerful stat under their belt. They have been in the Science Olympiad top 10 for 13 out of the past 20 years! At its peak four-year periods (2001-04, and 2003-06) the team was up to the #4 most powerful team.
#6 Mira Loma High School 2014-2018 (2200 award points): having hit the top 10 just slightly fewer times than our #7 dynasty (11 times for Mira Loma High School) only adds to the intensity of the Mira Loma High School This school had 6th most powerful dynasty between 2014-18; but in looking at 4-year power, between 2014-2017, Mira Loma was tied for the 2nd most powerful school! Mira Loma also hit the #1 placement in 2016 helping to make this our #6 all-time most powerful Science Olympiad dynasty.
#5 Grand Haven High School 2004-2012 (4300 award points): this school has a somewhat unenviable position of being the most powerful dynasty to never hit the top of the podium. However, this doesn’t take away from the fact that they still came in at #5 in the all-time best dynasty list! Grand Haven High School made the top 10 list an impressive 14 out of 20 years. They also came in 2nd place for 4 years, but were never able to crack open the #1 spot. Still, the sheer number of times they placed near the top puts Grand Haven at our #5 spot of most powerful dynasties. And in fact, between 2004-2007, their four-year award points put them all the way up at the #2 most powerful team during this period!
#4 Centerville High School 2003 – 2013 (5450 award points): for an impressive 11 years, Centerville High School was a fixture on the Science Olympiad top 10 podium. In the middle years of their dynasty they were the #1 most powerful team. Between 2006 and 2011, Centerville didn’t come in lower than 3rd place and hit 1st place twice in 2009 and 2010. Because of their powerful performances between 2006-2011, Centerville was actually the #1 most powerful team for the periods 2007-10, 2008-11, and 2009-12 – one of just three teams to be ranked #1 during any four-year power ranking period!
#3 Solon High School 2000 – 2006; 2010-2014; 2016 – 2019 (6950 award points): this school actually had three separate dynastic periods as we’ve defined a dynasty. Individually, Solon High School’s dynasties would have been ranked #6, #7, and #8 on our list, but it is more reasonable to rank the school based on the sum of its dynastic periods. Combined, Solon High School hit the Science Olympiad top 10 list an amazing 17 out of 20 years. They were also one of just two teams to hit first place three or more times! This impressive showing put them as the #1 most powerful team during the 2010-13 an 2011-14 periods – the 2nd of just 3 teams to hit the #1 most powerful spot at any time during the past 20 years.
#2 Harriton High School 2000 – 2019 (8550 award points): for the past 20 years, this school has not missed hitting the top 10 of the Science Olympiad national tournament. Not once. Of those 20 years on the top 10 podium, 11 of them were in the top 3 places, taking the 1st place trophy twice. Let that sink in for a minute. Twenty years in the top 10 is a truly amazing feat in any competition, but being in the top three places more than 50% of the time over the course of two decades is nearly unheard of! Harriton High School’s dominating performance is truly impressive; however, they never quite reached the #1 most powerful team in our four-year rankings due only to the fact that our #1 ranked dynasty was so powerful during the same periods. But Harriton’s power is on the rise again - the last four years they have not been out of the top 3.
#1 Troy High School 2000 – 2019 (15100 award points): this school’s performance in Science Olympiad the past two decades is truly the stuff of fables. In no other competition have we seen a school be so dominant at the national level. In any other situation, Harriton High School, the #2 ranked dynasty would be what we call “the stuff of fables” because, in any other light, Harriton was that powerful. But Troy High School’s power rankings blow even that away. Getting into the numbers, Troy hit the 1st place spot in Science Olympiad 11 of the past 20 years. Yes, the same number of years the #2 dynasty was in the top 3, Troy was at 1st For the full 20 years, the lowest placement Troy High School ever received was 5th place, and were only not in the top 3 four times in 20 years. I cannot impress upon you enough how spectacular this is.
Another stat where Troy is a one of a kind spectacle, is the four-year power rankings. In fact, they were so dominant during some periods, that they were nearly perfect! To be “perfect” in the four-year power rankings, you’d have to come in 1st place each of the four years (i.e. have 4000 award points in the chart above). From 2000 to 2003, Troy was 1st place three times, only missing the “perfect” mark by coming in 2nd place in 2001. They did this again in 2005 to 2008, and from 2016 to 2019 they just missed the “perfect” mark by coming in 4th in 2016. However, they have the chance once more to become the first ever “perfect” team in 2020 if they manage to take the #1 spot again.
A perfect four-year power-ranking is far from a given, and saying it is “no easy task” is a gross understatement. It’s a bit crazy that we can even say that is a possibility. Just considering a perfect four-year run on a national competition would be a joke in nearly any other situation; however, Troy High School has demonstrated a sheer dominance in Science Olympiad that we have not seen in any other competition.
Can they do it? We’ll have to wait for the 2020 Science Olympiad season to see. Given their record, I definitely wouldn’t count them out; however, there are 8,000 other teams vying for the title, and as we’ve seen from our analysis of other dynasties, powerful teams ebb and flow over the years. Even Troy High School had several years where their power dipped – from 2009-2012 they were ranked as only the 4th most powerful team (yes, being as powerful as this team has been means we get to say "only the 4th most powerful" during their down years). So 2020 may be the start of a new dynasty, the rise of an existing one, or the emergence of the first ever “perfect” run! We can’t wait to see.
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