Motivational Responses to Fitness Testing by Award Status and Gender

Article excerpt

Fitness testing is a prominent element in many physical education programs, but there has been limited investigation concerning motivation constructs associated with the testing. This study investigated the relationships among physical education students' award status and gender to achievement goals, intrinsic motivation, and intentions. After they had completed a battery of fitness tests, 123 fifth-grade physical education students were classified into two groups: those who received awards and those who did not. They completed a series of questionnaires assessing motivational constructs. Analyses of variance revealed that students xuho received a fitness award reported higher levels of task-involvement, perceived competence, effort, enjoyment, and future intention than those who did not. Bays reported higher levels of ego-involvement than girls, but no other gender differences were evident. The findings from this study can be used to inform practitioners, test designers, and researchers about the ways fitness testing programs can be structured so that all students receive the potential benefits from participating in such assessments.

Key words: achievement goals, future intention, intrinsic motivation, physical education


Currently, a variety of physical fitness tests are available for physical education teachers to assess students' fitness levels. The two most prominent test batteries are the President's Challenge Physical Fitness Awards Program (PCPFAP) and FITNESSGRAM[R]. According to the President's Council for Physical Fitness and Sports (PCPFS, 2003), one objective of fitness testing is to encourage and motivate individuals to adopt and adhere to physical activity behaviors across the lifespan. In their review of research related to fitness tests, Harris and Cale (2006) indicated that advocates for fitness tests argued that testing programs increased children's motivation to participate in regular physical activity. Other scholars, however, argued that there had not been sufficient empirical investigation concerning how students experience fitness tests and their motivational implications (Fox & Biddle, 1988). The Physical Education Association (PEA, 1988) reported there was not enough data-based evidence to support the notion that fitness testing motivates individuals. In fact, evidence suggests that students who do well are the only ones motivated by fitness tests.

Harris and Cale (2006) suggested these disparities justified questioning how rigorously the findings from experimental and field-based fitness tests can be interpreted and generalized. The divergent perspectives and findings highlight the need to explore how students' motivational dispositions influence the fitness testing structure and their experiences, especially when considering external reward systems and gender. Since the1966 inception of the President's Challenge, a norm-referenced test, approximately 55 million people have received awards resulting from participation in the program (PCPFS, 2006). The PCPFS explicitly stated, "Leading the nation toward these goals (e.g., healthy individuals and society) has been the Council's mission from the start and continues to be as the PCPFS motivates Americans to become--and stay--active" (p. 2). While this is recognized as an important purpose, it is essential to continue to investigate aspects of fitness tests in terms of students' motivational orientations. Additionally, fitness testing is one area of the physical education curriculum that continues to divide students along gender lines based on biological sex differences (see Domangue & Solmon, 2008). Therefore, research into the intersection of motivation constructs and gender in relation to fitness tests is needed to provide researchers, teachers, and test designers with important information concerning how students experience this aspect of the physical education curriculum.

Motivational Constructs

According to theoretical approaches, an individual's motivation is based on how she or he evaluates competence within certain contexts, and how competence is related to achievement (Nicholls, 1984). …