Local spelling contestants start computer portion of national bee

Kansas City area spellers headed into their first challenge as part of the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Tuesday morning: a computer-based spelling and vocabulary test.

Misspellings or incorrect answers on the test don’t get spellers instantly kicked out of the contest, but the test— which comprises 30 out of the 36 possible points spellers can earn during event preliminaries – will help decide who will make it to Thursday’s semifinals.

Past preliminary tests have focused solely on spelling, but this year’s edition includes a vocabulary component required under a controversial rule change.

Bill Filer, father of speller Evan Filer, a fifth-grader at McEowen Elementary School in Harrisonville, said the rule change “really wasn’t a big deal” because for Evan “everything is new.”

Mirle Shivashankar, father of three-time bee competitor Vanya Shivashankar from Olathe, praised the change, but admitted that it surprised him.

“It was a shocker,” he said. “This year’s changes are a paradigm shift.”

Lee’s Summit speller Meah N. Wilburn called it “an interesting twist.”

“I think it helps the spelling to know the definition,” she said.

Her mother, Laurie Wilburn, agreed.

“For lifelong learning it will be better to actually understand the words and know what they mean,” Wilburn said.

This year’s test has four sections.

In Section A, spellers must spell 24 words via computer keyboard.

The catch?

Only 12 of the 24 are actually “score spelling words,” or words selected by event officials to count toward a speller’s score, and test-takers don’t know which are which during the test.

Section B is the vocabulary portion, in which spellers answer 24 multiple-choice vocabulary questions, but once again only 12 count toward their scores.

For Sections A and B, all spellers answer an identical set of questions, with one point awarded for each correct answer for a total of 24 possible points.

For Sections C and D, each speller receives a single, unique multiple-choice vocabulary question worth three points for total of six possible points.

The test marks the first leg of preliminaries, which continue into Wednesday, when competitors will spell words onstage and any incorrect spellings will result in immediate elimination.