Prevalence and Correlates of Physical Fitness Testing in U.S. Schools-2000

Article excerpt

Because of the perceived lack of youth physical fitness and/or concerns for increased obesity, physical education teachers are interested in youth fitness and physical activity levels. Statewide mandates are being developed that require school-based teachers to complete physical fitness testing. Data from the nationally representative School Health Policies and Programs Study 2000 were analyzed to investigate the prevalence of fitness testing and the professional characteristics of fitness test users. Data were collected with teachers of either randomly selected classes in elementary schools and randomly selected required physical education courses in middle/junior high and senior high schools (N = 1,564). The prevalence of fitness test use is 65 % across all school levels. Variables associated with physical fitness test usage were professionally oriented. Results showed that teachers in secondary schools (odds ratio [OR] = 2. 25, 95 % confidence interval [CI] = 1.18-4.2 7), those with degrees in physical education/kinesiology-related disciplines (OR = 2. 01, 95 % CI = 1.11-3. 63), and those who had completed staff development on physical fitness testing (OR = 3.22, 95 % CI= 1.86-5.60) were more likely than respondents without these characteristics to engage in physical fitness testing. Results changed little when separate analyses were conducted for classes/courses in districts requiring versus not requiring fitness testing. Financial variables, including fitness-oriented facilities available, metropolitan location, and discretionary expenditures per student, were not associated with fitness test use. Results provided national prevalence of school-based physical fitness testing use in the U. S. and conveyed information about those who currently use physical fitness tests.

Key words: health, health-related fitness, schools, SHPPS


Interest in physical fitness levels and fitness testing among American children and youth is often traced to Kraus and Hirschland's (1954) report declaring American youth were less fit than their European peers. As a result of that alarming report, steps were taken to remedy the perceived problem. Efforts ultimately led to developing what is today the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sport (PCPFS). Concurrent with the creation of the PCPFS, the American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation (AAHPER) initiated a Youth Fitness Test Project that resulted in the AAHPER Youth Fitness Test (AAHPER, 1958). This test, often referred to as the "President's Physical Fitness Test," because children and youth earned the Presidential Physical Fitness Award for achieving at least the 85th percentile on all test items, was the first attempt at nationwide physical fitness testing in the United States.

Over the next 20 years, the original AAHPER Youth Fitness Test was modified (AAHPERD, 1976). Meanwhile, discussions of the various youth fitness test batteries and items occurred, many of which contrasted health- and performance-related physical fitness (Caspersen, Powell, & Christensen, 1985; Murphy, 1986; Pate, 1988). Two widely used tests were developed and modified over the years. The most recent versions are the President's Challenge (2003b) and the FITNESSGRAM (The Cooper Institute, 2004). Seefeldt and Vogel (1989) suggested this modification period was one of misguided efforts. Nevertheless, fitness testing is widely conducted in schools.

Recently, Burgeson, Wechsler, Brener, Young, and Spain (2001) reported on state and school district requirements for fitness tests in schools. In 2000, 18% of states and 20.4% of districts required senior high schools to administer fitness tests, 15.7% of states and 21.3% of districts required middle/junior high schools do so, and 13.7% of states and 18.3% of districts required elementary schools to give such tests. Among states and districts that required fitness testing, the President's Challenge was most often used (11. …