Statewide Physical Fitness Testing: Perspectives from the Gym

By Martin, Scott B.; Ede, Alison et al. | Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, September 2010 | Go to article overview

Statewide Physical Fitness Testing: Perspectives from the Gym


Martin, Scott B., Ede, Alison, Morrow, James R., Jr., Jackson, Allen W., Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport


This paper provides observations of physical fitness testing in Texas schools and physical education teachers' insights about large-scale testing using the FITNESSGRAM[R] assessment (Cooper Institute, 2007) as mandated by Texas Senate Bill 530. In the first study, undergraduate and graduate students who were trained to observe and assess student fitness testing in grades 3 through 12 provided observations. In the second study, physical education teachers responded to selected interview questions during a focus group discussion. From the observations and responses, specific themes emerged related to teachers knowledge and training about conducting fitness testing and managing data, students' knowledge and motivation, support and resources far conducting fitness assessments, and complexity of the fitness situation.

Key words: behaviors, perceptions, physical education teachers

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Physical fitness and physical activity levels in children and adolescents have long been a topic of interest, especially to physical educators, exercise scientists, health agencies, and private organizations dealing with sport and fitness (Safrit, 1990). Knowledge that children and adolescents in the United States are more obese and possibly less physically fit than their counterparts in other developed nations has been highlighted for more than two decades (see DiNubile, 1993; Freedson, Cureton, & Heath, 2000; Seefeldt & Vogel, 1989). A number of nationwide youth fitness school-based physical education programs have been developed over the past 50 years, during which time several reports critically examined the strengths and weaknesses of the fitness batteries used in the programs (e.g., Freedson et al., 2000; Keating, 2003; Safrit, 1990; Safrit & Wood, 1995). Hence, examining physical education classes or fitness assessment protocols to improve the experiences of all those involved is not a new concept (e.g., Stewart, Boyce, Elliot, & Block, 2005). The beneficial impact of fitness testing programs, components, and certain test items has met with some skepticism due to the increased number of overweight children and adolescents and overweight, inactive adults (Keating, 2003; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [USDHHS], 2008). Findings from a few studies suggested that high physical fitness during childhood and young adulthood is related to a healthy risk factor profile later in life; however, youth physical activity levels do not necessarily influence cardiovascular disease in later life (Harris & Cale, 2006; Twisk, Kemper, & Van Mechelen, 2002a, 2002b).

Education, government, healthcare, and business institutions, as well as parents and families should share the responsibility for U.S. children's and adolescents' health and fitness (Austin, Fung, Cohen-Bearak, Wardle, & Cheung, 2006). Positive attempts to make large-scale changes include legislation such as Texas Senate Bill (SB) 19, requiring students in publicly funded elementary and middle schools to participate in physical activity; SB 42, that schools implement a coordinated health program; or SB 530, mandating fitness testing of grade 3-12 students (e.g., Kelder et al., 2009). However, there is limited information about the issues and barriers teachers and administrators face when making these changes (e.g., Green & Thurston, 2002). By documenting testing errors and best practices during large-scale fitness testing, a comprehensive understanding may guide future endeavors to ensure accountability and success. Thus, this paper reports on teachers' experiences during the Texas state-mandated physical fitness assessments conducted in the second year of implementation.

Through anecdotal reports, experiences, and observations from physical education teachers and trained college students who conducted the mandated fitness testing, we provide an understanding of the issues and barriers to conducting physical fitness assessments and maintaining annual statewide physical fitness data.

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