Overview of the Texas Youth Fitness Study

Article excerpt

This paper summarizes the historical and legislative backgrounds leading to statewide testing of health-related physical fitness in Texas children grades 3-12 as mandated by Texas Senate Bill 530. The rationale and goals for an associated research project (the Texas Youth Fitness Study, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) to evaluate data collected from the statewide initiative are provided. The study investigated the relations between health-related physical fitness and educational variables, including academic achievement, absenteeism, and negative school incidents. It also provides unique insights into the quality (both reliability and validity) of collected data and implications of large-scale school-based physical fitness testing. Teacher commentary and experiences add to the description of the data collection processes. Last, the relations between psychosocial variables and health- related fitness in middle school students are described.

Key words: evaluation, physical fitness, testing


Interest in assessing U.S. youth fitness levels dates from the 1950s (Morrow, Zhu, Franks, Meredith, & Spain, 2009). Since then, youth fitness assessments have been largely state-based, with notable exceptions being the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS, 1985, 1987) and the National School Population Fitness Survey (President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, 1986). Recently, there has been widespread interest in state-based youth fitness testing (Morrow & Ede, 2009). Much of this interest resulted from the increased levels of childhood and youth obesity reported in the United States (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009). School-based physical education has been widely viewed as part of the solution for addressing the childhood obesity epidemic (Boehmer, Brownson, Haire-Joshu, & Dreisinger, 2007; Payne & Morrow, 2009). Systematic evaluation of youth fitness levels provides a way to monitor these trends, but it is controversial and difficult (Corbin & Pangrazi, 1992; Franks, Morrow, & Plowman, 1988; Morrow, 2005; Morrow & Ede, 2009; Seefeldt & Vogel, 1989).

Major public health concerns are that children may be engaging in less physical activity than in previous years and that school-based physical education opportunities have been reduced for children. Brener et al. (2007) reported the percentage of high school students not attending daily physical education ranged from 53.7% to 95.1% (Mdn = 74.2%). Eaton et al. (2008) reported 65.3% of high school students had not met recommended amounts of physical activity in the previous 7 days. Importantly, evidence is accumulating that physical activity is related to academic achievement and cognition in school-age children (Chomitz et al., 2009; Kwak et al., 2009; Tomporowski, Davis, Miller, & Naglieri, 2008). Thus, the major driving forces in assessing children and youth health behaviors are: (a) increasing levels of childhood obesity, (b) the perception of declining physical fitness levels, (c) reduced physical activity behaviors in children and youth, (d) reductions in the time available for school-based physical education, and (e) interest in the relation between academic achievement and physical activity/fitness. The TexasYouth Fimess Study (TYFS) was an outgrowth of these five interests. The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of the project, its background, and its purpose and to introduce the remaining papers in this supplement to Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport (RQES).

In 2007, the Texas legislature voted to conduct statewide health-related physical fitness testing on all children in grades 3-12 (Senate Bill [SB] 530); however, file genesis for SB 530 began in 2001. Kenneth Cooper was influential in convincing policy makers to make changes to the physical activity and physical fitness testing requirements in Texas. Table 1 lists Texas legislation, providing the background, framework, and groundwork for the large-scale testing initiated across Texas in 2007. Texas youth fitness testing has nearly 40 years of history (Governor's Commission on Physical Fitness, 1973). The enactment of SB 530 required prompt action, so major decisions had to be made quickly. For example, the legislation called for health-related fitness testing but did not identify a specific instrument/battery to be used. A Texas "Request for Offer" process was used, and The Cooper Instimte's FITNESSGRAM[R] was selected as the statewide test battery. (1) The selection process left little time for teacher training, software adjustments, data collection, and valid processes to assess youth fitness levels. SB 530 was an unfunded mandate; the legislation requiredschools to participate but provided no funding for data collection or the associated responsibilities and tasks. Cooper was instrumental in creating the "Our Kids' Health" Foundation that resulted in individual and corporate support for data collection.

For perspective, the population for Texas is approximately 25 million--48% Anglo, 36% Hispanic, 12% Black, and 5% other. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) listed 4,671,493 students enrolled in public schools statewide in 2007-08. During that academic year 2,658,665 students in grades 3-12 completed FITNESSGRAM testing. Data were collected from 83.66% of the school districts and 70.32% of Texas school campuses. FITNESSGRAM data were collected and submitted, aggregated by age and gender for schools, and made available for further analyses. The legislation forbids collecting and reporting of individual data to the state level.

The 2007-08 overall results, available from the TEA, are presented in Table 2. Note that achievement of six FITNESSGRAM Healthy Fitness Zones[TM] (HFZs) declines sharply with increasing age. Girls generally perform better than boys until grade 9, and then boys' performance is better than girls'. Importantly, achieving all six FITNESSGRAM HFZs is not a FITNESSGRAM-supported interpretation. Rather, FITNESSGRAM items should be evaluated and interpreted individually.

The key purposes of this supplement are to provide in-depth analyses and evaluation of the statewide data collection. While the data provide information about population patterns and trends, there are also possible relations between physical fitness levels and other school and individual characteristics. Supplemental analyses can also help explain variability across the population. The TYFS enabled our research team to conduct further analyses and provide a more comprehensive evaluation and interpretation of the data. These analyses used more rigorous data processing techniques to remove outliers and ensure the most accurate data representations. While sample sizes for individual reports may vary depending on the analyses being performed, the statewide data were all extracted directly from the original TEA dataset.

The quality of physical education and teacher experience varies widely within Texas (as in all states), which leads one to consider the nature and quality of the data. Can the data be trusted? Can teachers, aides, and/or students collect data in reliable and valid ways? If hypothesized relations are not observed in data analyses, does it mean there is no relation, or is failure to identify relations a function of poor assessment (i.e., a type II error)? Mahar and Rowe (2008) summarized factors that influence the quality of school-based fitness assessments. Potential sources of error can be classified as the following: tester, participant, test-related, and environmental. To determine the impact of error on the statewide project results, we also conducted detailed evaluations of the reliability and validity of the fitness data. This evaluation provided valuable information about the overall quality of data collected and advances the scientific basis on youth fitness assessment.

Teachers are essential to large-scale testing. They are influenced by school policies and environment. We observed, interacted, interviewed, worked with, and surveyed school-based physical education teachers to better understand the challenges they face with large-scale fitness testing. The TYFS involved research collaboration between The Cooper Institute and three different research institutions (Iowa State University, the University of Illinois, and the University of North Texas). The overall project, funded by a grant (ID# 64693) from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, had three specific aims.

Aim 1. Determine the relations among health-related fitness and academic variables, including scores on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS), absenteeism, and negative school incidents (conducted at Iowa State University). The data for these analyses came directly from the TEA and included the FITNESSGRAM results and academic and school characteristics.

Aim 2. Determine the quality of the data collected. Procedures were conducted to ascertain the reliability and validity of the physical fitness measures obtained in schools (conducted at the University of North Texas). To interpret the Aim 2 data, it was important that additional data collection for reliability and validity analyses was completed at the individual student level. Test administrators completed a variety of training activities, including no training, self-taught, train-the-trainer, and on-line instruction. Thus, data collection and administration processes are probably representative of that accomplished under similar conditions nationwide.

Aim 3. Determine the relations between teacher and school characteristics and fitness results (conducted at the University of Illinois). In addition to the data available from the TEA, an Internet survey of teachers across Texas provided data on school- and teacher-level variables potentially related to fitness achievement.

Students have differential perspectives and experiences when undergoing fitness testing. The final research paper in the supplement, supported by a grant from the National Association forf Sport and Physical Education, reports on psychosocial variables related to youth health-related fitness in 1,000 Texas middle school children.

The articles in this RQES supplement summarize findings from the project's three specific aims. The data not only provide information about the stares of health-related fitness in Texas but also advance the knowledge base on school-based fitness testing and factors influencing youth fitness. The articles reflect four RQES sections: epidemiology, measurement and evaluation, pedagogy, and psychology. The epidemiology articles examine (a) the distribution of fitness test results across the state and (b) relations between fitness test achievement and academic indexes (including TAKS scores, attendance, and negative school incidents). The measurement and evaluation article reports on the reliability and validity of teacher-assessed large-scale testing. Three pedagogy articles examine teacher behaviors and the relations between school policies and environment and youth fitness achievement. The psychology article examines psychosocial variables associated with body composition and cardiorespiratory fitness. The articles were submitted to the co-editors and then reviewed by the experts below. The editors and authors appreciate their scientific review.

* Barbara E. Ainsworth, College of Nursing and Health Innovation Exercise and Wellness, Arizona State University

* Bradley J. Cardinal, College of Health and Human Sciences, Oregon State University

* Heather O. Chambliss, Health and Sport Sciences, University of Memphis

* Ang Chen, Department of Kinesiology, University of North Carolina-Greensboro

* Qi Chen, Department of Educational Psychology, University of North Texas

* Charles B. Corbin, Department of Exercise and Wellness, Arizona State University

* Patty S. Freedson, Department of Kinesiology, University of Massachusetts

* Janet E. Fulton, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

* Harold W. (Bill) Kohl III, School of Public Health and Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, The University of Texas-Austin; and The University of Texas Health Science Center-Houston

* Dorothy (Dolly) Lambdin, Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, University of Texas-Austin

* Matthew T. Mahar, Department of Exercise and Sport Science, East Carolina University

* Thomas L. McKenzie, Department of Nutritional Sciences, San Diego State University

* Dale E Mood, Department of Integrative Physiology, University of Colorado-Boulder

* Russell R. Pate, Department of Exercise Science, University of South Carolina

* Melinda A. Solmon, Department of Kinesiology, Louisiana State University

The research in this supplement uses a variety of methods, including quantitative, psychometric summaries, focus group summaries, experiential reports, projections of importance, and recommendations for future testing and research. Dissemination of this research will provide insights to policy makers and legislators considering similar district or statewide mandates. The results can also provide information to facilitate future research and planning of coordinated health and fitness promotion efforts within the state and across the country.

Authors' Note

Please address correspondence concerning this article to James R. Morrow, Jr., Department of Kinesiology, Health Promotion and Recreation, 1155 Union Circle #310769, University of North Texas, Denton TX 76205-5017.

E-mail: Jim.morrow@unt.edu


Boehmer, T. K., Brownson, R. C., Haire-Joshu, D., & Dreisinger, M. L. (2007). Patterns of childhood obesity prevention legislation in the United States. Preventing Chronic Disease, 4, A56.

Brener, N. D., Kann, L., Garcia, D., MacDonald, G., Ramsey, F., Honeycutt, S. et al. (2007). Youth risk behavior surveillance-Selected steps communities, 2005. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports Surveillance Summaries, 56, 1-16.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009). Childhood overweight and obesity. Retrieved from http://www.cdc. gov/obesity/childhood/index.html

Chomitz, V. R., Slining, M. M., McGowan, R. J., Mitchell, S. E., Dawson, G. F., & Hacker, K. A. (2009). Is there a relationship between physical fitness and academic achievement? Positive results from public school children in the northeastern United States. Journal of School Health, 79, 30-37.

Corhin, C. B., & Pangrazi, R. P. (1992). Are American children and youth fit? Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 63, 96-116.

Eaton, D. K., Kaun, L., Kinchen, S., Shanldin, S., Ross, J, Hawkins, J. et al. (2008). Youth risk behavior surveillance--United States, 2007. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports Surveillance Summaries, 57, 1-131.

Franks, B. D., Morrow, J. R., Jr., & Plowman, S. A. (1988). Youth fitness testing: Validation, planning, and politics. Quest, 40, 187-199.

Governor's Commission on Physical Fitness. (1973). Texas physical fitness--Motor ability test. Austin, TX: Author.

Kwak, L., Kremers, S. P., Bergman, P., Ruiz, J. R., Rizzo, N. S., & Sjostrom, M. (2009). Associations between physical activity, fitness, and academic achievement. Journal of Pediatrics, 155, 914-918.

Mahar, M. T., & Rowe, D.A. (2008). Practical guidelines for valid and reliable fitness testing. Measurement in Physical Education and Exercise Science, 12, 126-145.

Morrow, J. R., Jr. (2005). Are American children and youth fit? It's time we learned. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 76, 377-388.

Monow, J. R., Jr., & Ede, A. (2009). Statewide physical fitness testing: A BIG waist or a BIG waste? Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 80, 696-701.

Morrow, J. R., Jr., Zhu, W., Franks, B. D., Meredith, M. D., & Spain, C. (2009). 1958-2008:50 years of youth fitness tests in the United States. Research Quarterly Exercise and Sport, 80, 1-11.

Payne, V. G., & Morrow, J. R., Jr. (2009). School physical education as a viable change agent to increase youth physical activity. The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports Research Digest, 10(2).

President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. (1986). National school population fitness survey. Ann Arbor. MI: University of Michigan.

Seefeldt, V., & Vogel, P. (1989). Physical fitness testing of children: A 30-year history of misguided efforts? Pediatric Exercise Science, 1, 295-302.

Toinporowski, P. D., Davis, C. L., Miller, P. H., & Naglieri, J. A. (2008). Exercise and children's intelligence, cognition, and academic achievement. Education Psychology Review, 20, 111-131.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (1985). National Children and Youth Fitness Study. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 56(1), 43-90.

U.S. Department of Health mad Human Services. (1987). The National Children and Youth Fitness Study II. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 58(9), 44-90.


(1.) The terms cardiorespiratory fitness, cardiovascular fitness, and aerobic capacity, while technically different, are used interchangeably by the authors throughout the following papers.

James R. Morrow, Jr., and Scott B. Martin are with the Department of Kinesiology, Health Promotion and Recreation at the University of North Texas. Gregory J. Welk is with the Department of Kinesiology at Iowa State University. Weimo Zhu is with the Kinesiology and Community Health Department at the University of Illinois. Marilu D. Meredith is with The Cooper Institute, Dallas, TX.

Table 1. Texas school-based physical activity, physical education,
and physical fitness-related legislation

                            Senate bills

2001   Senate Bill 19

       * Required students in K-5 to engage in 30 min/day or 135
       min/week of physical activity

       * Required each school district to establish a School Health
       Advisory Council

       * Required elementary schools to implement a Coordinated School
       Health Program by end of 2007 school year

2003   Senate Bill 1357

       * Required schools to make available to the public records of
       their compliance with SB19 and policies regarding vending
       machine access and school tobacco

       * Dictated composition of the School Health Advisory Council

       * Directed School Health Advisory Councils to recommend
       policies to integrate all school health and safety activities
       into the School Health Advisory Council

2005   Senate Bill 42

       * Expanded requirement for Coordinated School Health Programs
       to include middle and junior high schools

       * Initial activity requirement for middle and junior high
       school students; physical education at least twice each week or
       schedule physical activity at least two semesters overall

       * Required schools to publish compliance with school health and
       physical activity requirements in student handbooks or on
       websites and submit a report to the Commissioner of Education

       * Required the Texas education commissioner to adopt criteria
       for evaluation of school nutrition services

2007   Senate Bill 530

       * Required students in grades K-5 to have 30 min of moderate to
       vigorous physical activity each day

       * Required student in grades 6-8 to have 30 min of moderate to
       vigorous physical activity each day for at least four semesters

       * Required districts to publish in student handbooks or on
       websites policies adopted to ensure that students are meeting
       the physical activity requirements

       * Required statewide health-related fitness testing for all
       students in grades 3-12

       * Required school districts to compile fitness assessment
       results and submit to the Texas Education Agency

       * Required the Texas Education Agency to analyze data and look
       at the relations between physical fitness, student achievement
       levels, student attendance, obesity, disciplinary problems, and
       the school meal program

Table 2. Texas Youth Fitness Study results (2008) (a)

Grade   Total (b)   Girls     Boys      FITNESSGRAM[R]   (achieved
                                        Total (n)        Total (%)

3       327,946     160,929   167,017   98,101           29.9
4       320,123     157,232   162,891   76,917           24.0
5       314,035     154,865   159,170   64,050           20.4
6       292,849     144,379   148,470   58,788           20.1
7       281,334     138,295   143,039   53,975           19.2
8       259,102     126,185   132,917   47,751           18.4
9       263,517     126,607   136,910   37,516           14.2
10      212,562     103,453   109,109   27,222           12.8
11      178,583     87,778    90,805    20,055           11.2
12      146,514     72,816    73,698    12,327            8.4

Grade   HFZ on      all six tests)
        Girls (%)   Boys (%)

3       32.1        27.6
4       27.4        20.4
5       23.0        17.3
6       22.6        17.1
7       20.9        16.9
8       18.7        17.6
9       13.4        14.4
10      11.9        13.1
11      10.3        11.7
12      7.8          8.6

Note. HFZ = Healthy Fitness Zone [TM]; % districts submitting
data = 83.66%; % campuses submitting data = 70.32%.

(a) As of 6/26/08, from
http://www.cooperinstitute.org/ourkidsheaIth/news/index.cfm and

(b) Total number of students (N= 2,596,565).