This paper summarizes the historical and legislative backgrounds leading to statewide testing of health-related physical fitness in Texas children grades 3-12 as mandated by Texas Senate Bill 530. The rationale and goals for an associated research project (the Texas Youth Fitness Study, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) to evaluate data collected from the statewide initiative are provided. The study investigated the relations between health-related physical fitness and educational variables, including academic achievement, absenteeism, and negative school incidents. It also provides unique insights into the quality (both reliability and validity) of collected data and implications of large-scale school-based physical fitness testing. Teacher commentary and experiences add to the description of the data collection processes. Last, the relations between psychosocial variables and health- related fitness in middle school students are described.
Key words: evaluation, physical fitness, testing
Interest in assessing U.S. youth fitness levels dates from the 1950s (Morrow, Zhu, Franks, Meredith, & Spain, 2009). Since then, youth fitness assessments have been largely state-based, with notable exceptions being the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS, 1985, 1987) and the National School Population Fitness Survey (President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, 1986). Recently, there has been widespread interest in state-based youth fitness testing (Morrow & Ede, 2009). Much of this interest resulted from the increased levels of childhood and youth obesity reported in the United States (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009). School-based physical education has been widely viewed as part of the solution for addressing the childhood obesity epidemic (Boehmer, Brownson, Haire-Joshu, & Dreisinger, 2007; Payne & Morrow, 2009). Systematic evaluation of youth fitness levels provides a way to monitor these trends, but it is controversial and difficult (Corbin & Pangrazi, 1992; Franks, Morrow, & Plowman, 1988; Morrow, 2005; Morrow & Ede, 2009; Seefeldt & Vogel, 1989).
Major public health concerns are that children may be engaging in less physical activity than in previous years and that school-based physical education opportunities have been reduced for children. Brener et al. (2007) reported the percentage of high school students not attending daily physical education ranged from 53.7% to 95.1% (Mdn = 74.2%). Eaton et al. (2008) reported 65.3% of high school students had not met recommended amounts of physical activity in the previous 7 days. Importantly, evidence is accumulating that physical activity is related to academic achievement and cognition in school-age children (Chomitz et al., 2009; Kwak et al., 2009; Tomporowski, Davis, Miller, & Naglieri, 2008). Thus, the major driving forces in assessing children and youth health behaviors are: (a) increasing levels of childhood obesity, (b) the perception of declining physical fitness levels, (c) reduced physical activity behaviors in children and youth, (d) reductions in the time available for school-based physical education, and (e) interest in the relation between academic achievement and physical …