Including All Children in Standards-Based Physical Education

By Johnson, Lynn V.; Kasser, Susan L. et al. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, April 2002 | Go to article overview

Including All Children in Standards-Based Physical Education


Johnson, Lynn V., Kasser, Susan L., Nichols, Beverly A., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


A major force in educational reform today is standards-based education. Advocates for standards-based education believe that educational standards set the tone for the changes needed in our educational system. An educational standard determines the level of achievement desired for an educated person. These standards provide direction in what students should know and be able to do (content standards), the level of expected achievement (performance standards), and how teachers perform (standards for teachers) (National Association for Sport & Physical Education [NASPE], 1995a, 1995b).

While the movement toward standards-based education has progressed quickly, one issue yet to be adequately addressed is how to include all students, with or without disabilities, who may be unable to meet the developed standards. Many questions surrounding standards and inclusion remain unanswered. For example, should standards be applied to all students? What are the obstacles precluding the inclusion of students with varied abilities into standards-based teaching? How can all students fit into standards-based education?

Should Standards Be Applied to All Students?

On philosophical grounds, many professionals believe that standards should be inclusive and that all students, regardless of ability, should be educated under the standards umbrella (Elliott & Thurlow, 1997). Standards are intended to clarify the focus of education and provide direction through a commonly held set of goals for planning and teaching (Schmoker & Marazano, 1999).

Proponents of standards-based reform also contend that standards refocus an educational system's efforts on student learning (Pickering & Gaddy, 1996), foster more consistency in educational programming (Ravitch, 1996), and serve as a bridge to higher student achievement (Berger, 2000; Marazano & Kendall, 1996). Since the goals toward which they are working are clear, students can more easily assume responsibility for working to achieve the standards.

The implications of educational standards on students with disabilities have been widely discussed. Many professionals believe that requirements for inclusion in standards-based systems assume that students with disabilities benefit from having access to the general education curriculum and being held to high standards (McDonnell, McLaughlin, & Morison, 1997). Excluding students--because of disability or for other reasons--lowers teachers' expectations and ultimately results in lowered performance from the students themselves. Other professionals question the focus of instruction for students not included in state or district assessments (Thurlow & Johnson, 2000).

Standards hold teachers accountable by providing opportunities for each child to achieve the expected outcomes (Clark & Clark, 2000). Inclusion of students with disabilities in standards-based systems also recognizes that these students are part of an entire school population that educators are held accountable for teaching (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). Applying standards to all students promotes inclusive education and equality of opportunity (Ramirez & McClanahan, 1992).

Obstacles to Including All Students

As professional committees work to develop standards-based programs, they do so with the goal of formulating one set of standards and their benchmarks (levels of performance to be achieved by all students by the end of predetermined time periods) (NASPE, 1995a). This process centers on the belief that most of the student population should be able to attain the stated standards and benchmarks. For the remaining students--those identified as having a disability or condition significantly affecting motor performance--the standards are deemed inappropriate. As such, the standards are ignored completely or require modification to cater to the lowered ability levels demonstrated by these students. …

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