Assessing Physical Activity Levels of Students with Disabilities in Physical Education?

Article excerpt

Assessment is an important element of physical education for students with disabilities. Since the inception of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, a comprehensive assessment for determining appropriate education services to students with disabilities has been mandated, and physical education is required for all students with disabilities. Assessment data are used to develop individualized education programs (IEPs) and to determine the progress of students with disabilities. Movement skills, physical fitness, and sport skills are the traditional content areas of physical education in which students with disabilities are assessed.

Recently, public health policy has emphasized regular physical activity for people of all ages to promote their optimal health. The important role that school physical education plays in the promotion of physical activity and public health has also been underlined; physical education has been identified as the primary agency responsible for promoting daily physical activity in children (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 1997; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000; Tappe & Burgeson, 2004).

The promotion of physical activity through physical education is even more important for students with disabilities. Although relatively little information is available about the physical activity and physical fitness levels of children with disabilities, these children often engage in less physical activity and have lower levels of physical fitness compared to their peers without disabilities (Ferhall & Unnithan, 2002; Steele et al., 2004).They also have higher levels of obesity compared to their peers without disabilities (Rimmer, Rowland, & Yamaki, in press) and participate less in extracurricular school-based or after-school physical activity programs (Council on Sports Medicine & Fitness and Council on School Health, 2006; Schreiber, Marchetti, & Crytzer, 2004).

In order to promote daily physical activity for students with disabilities through school physical education, the physical activity levels of students with disabilities should be measured. The assessment data will help adapted physical educators and IEP team members to (1) develop and evaluate a student's IEP (i.e., present levels of performance, IEP goals), (2) examine the effectiveness of physical education lessons, and (3) determine whether the student with disabilities meets physical activity recommendations (i.e., the 2008 "Physical Activity Guidelines"; CDC, 2008). Unfortunately, little attention has been given to measuring physical activity levels in students with disabilities. The purpose of this editorial is to encourage the measurement of the physical activity levels of students with disabilities and to provide information about the available assessment tools.

There is no single "gold standard" assessment tool for measuring all aspects of physical activity for children with disabilities. Pedometers, accelerometers, heart rate monitors, and direct observation are the most common methods that have been used for measuring physical activity levels, but little is known about their reliability and validity when assessing children with disabilities. Each method has advantages and disadvantages.

Pedometers measure ambulatory activities (the up-and-down motion of the hip in a vertical plane) with step counts. This method has been used to assess ambulatory physical activity in children with various disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, Prader-Willi syndrome, hearing impairments, and visual impairments (e.g., Eiholzer et al., 2003; Suzuki et al., 1991). For children with visual impairments, voice-announcement pedometers can also be used (Beets, Foley, Tindal, & Lieberman, 2007). The advantages of this method include the low cost (less than $50 per unit) and ease of use. Also, a pedometer can be used as a motivational tool because it provides immediate feedback. …