A Survey of Student Assessment Practice in Physical Education: Recommendations for Grading

By Young, Shawna | Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators, July-August 2011 | Go to article overview

A Survey of Student Assessment Practice in Physical Education: Recommendations for Grading


Young, Shawna, Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators


When reading report cards or transcripts, students, parents, colleges, and employers in general likely make a set of fundamental assumptions regarding grades. This set of assumptions includes the following:

1. Grades reflect achievement.

2. Student achievement is based on a set of predetermined educational outcomes, benchmarks, or objectives.

3. Measurement of performance on those predetermined outcomes is systematic, criteria-based, and comprehensive.

Unfortunately, these assumptions cannot be evenly applied to grades in physical education. Within the discipline, there has been debate and a lack of consensus with regard to the relevancy of various factors used for the determination of student grades such as attendance, being dressed in a physical education uniform, and participation (Buck, Lurid, Harrison, & Cook, 2007; Darst & Pangrazi, 2006; Hastie, 2003; Kelly & Melograno, 2004; Lund & Kirk, 2002; Rink, 2010; Siedentop & Tannehill, 2000). When grades in physical education represent a student's degree of adherence to administrative rules rather than representing information about a student's competency in relation to educational outcomes, the discipline allows room for others to question the meaningfulness and relevancy of physical education. Some school districts exclude physical education grades from the calculation of students' overall GPA, and some colleges do not consider physical education grades in formulas for admission. When grades are not based on achievement but rather on adherence to administrative rules, there is room to contemplate if perhaps physical education is not important. This leaves the discipline in a precarious position, particularly in lean budget times.

A Survey of Current Practice

To examine current professional practice with respect to grading in physical education, a survey study was conducted. Two thousand questionnaires were distributed to public high school physical education teachers across the United States, including 22 states and 335 schools. Of the 2000 surveys distributed, 617 were returned.

Participants were asked to indicate what percentage of a student's grade in their classes is represented by the following five areas: 1) administrative tasks (e.g., dressing appropriately, attendance, and participation); 2) knowledge (e.g., rules, strategy, technical aspects, terminology); 3) attitude and/or values (e.g., effort and fair play); 4) skill (e.g., sport or other motor skills); and 5) fitness (e.g., cardiovascular, strength, flexibility, body composition). Of the 617 who responded, 475 (77%) indicated that student performance on administrative tasks represents more than 50% of the student grade. And of those 475 respondents, 193 teachers indicated that performance on administrative tasks represents 100% of a student's grade. Another interesting finding was that of the 424 teachers who include some degree of skill and fitness elements in student grades, 394 of the teachers base the grade on improvement in those areas rather than on overall performance.

Figure 1. Sample assessment tools

Cognitive Domain

* journals
* projects
* written exams
* essay questions
* portfolios
* oral presentations
* interviews

Affective Domain

* portfolios
* logs
* journals
* essay responses
* projects
* observations (using checklists,
* rubrics, self-checks, rating sheets)

Psychomotor Domain

* skills testing (using rubrics)
* observations (using checklists,
rubrics, self-checks, rating sheets)
* game play

Fitness Domain

* fitness testing
* exercise logs

Though these results are not conclusive, they are certainly alarming. This survey suggests that most physical educators base grades largely on administrative tasks such as dressing, attendance, and participation. And when grades do reflect elements related to skill or fitness, the majority of grading is based on improvement rather than on absolute overall performance. …

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