Academic journal article Journal of School Health

Effects of Fitness Test Type, Teacher, and Gender on Exercise Intrinsic Motivation and Physical Self-Worth

Academic journal article Journal of School Health

Effects of Fitness Test Type, Teacher, and Gender on Exercise Intrinsic Motivation and Physical Self-Worth

Article excerpt

Youth fitness has been a topic of public and professional concern since Kraus and Hirschland (1) published their comparative study which showed American children were less fit than European children. The widespread media attention aroused by that study led to formation in 1956 of the President's Council on Physical Fitness (now the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports--PCPFS), and prompted the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation (now the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance--AAHPERD) to establish a task force on youth fitness. The AAHPER group acted quickly to survey the fitness of American children and to use the test results to construct national norms. This goal was achieved for grades 5-12 in 1957 and 1958, and the resultant test--the AAPHER Youth Fitness Test--became the first fitness test with national norms to be developed by the physical education profession in the U.S. (2)

Almost from the beginning of organized fitness testing, award schemes were devised to reward children who scored at or above certain percentile standards. For example, the AAHPERD Youth Fitness Test, revised in 1965 and 1976, began in 1965 giving two levels of awards based on the 50th or 80th percentiles. The PCPFS entered the act in 1966 when President Lyndon Johnson established the Presidential Fitness Award to accompany the AAHPERD Youth Fitness Test. That award was presented to children who scored at or above the 85th percentile on all tests in the battery.

As the 1980s approached, questions arose about fit ness testing and award schemes. For example, the view that a more health-related focus was needed in test batteries led to construction and institution in 1980 of the AAPHERD Health-Related Fitness Test. (2) Similarly, in the case of award schemes, concern increased about motivational outcomes of offering percentile-based awards that only a few children could attain. Escalation of this debate plus the intrusion of politics led to controversy as the once-a-decade review of test batteries approached in the mid-1980s. (3) Failure to reconcile differences of opinion between AAHPERD and the PCPFS led to a split. The result was a withdrawal from AAHPERD by their Fitness Task Force, and for the first time, publication by the PCPFS of a completely independent test battery in 1987. (4)

The former AAHPERD contingent joined with the Institute for Aerobics Research (IAR), and sponsored by Campbell's Soup, published their battery in 1987. This battery--Fitnessgram--differed from previous packages in that fitness tests were advocated as part of an educational plan designed to motivate exercise involvement. Instead of percentiles, the tests had health-criterion standards to facilitate interpretation, and had an accompanying award scheme that recognized six weeks of exercise involvement rather than high fitness scores. The philosophical rationale of the new package drew heavily from mainstream psychology research on intrinsic motivation. Central to that rationale was the argument that intrinsic motivation toward exercise and fitness could be adversely affected by extrinsic reinforcers such as fitness awards or by possible detrimental effects on perceived competence consequent to most children failing to achieve high percentile scores. (5)

In contrast to Fitnessgram, the new PCPS battery--The President's Challenge--followed the norm-based tradition of offering an award for those children who attained the 85th percentile on all tests. (4) Though it has been shown that usually less than 1% of children can win this award, (6) the PCPFS also claims that their test program is designed to "motivate boys and girls to develop and maintain a high level of physical fitness ..." (4)

Perhaps the only study to investigate those motivational claims is a youth fitness testing situation was an experiment by Whitehead and Corbin (7) in which bogus percentile-related feedback was given to junior high school students after an agility run test. …

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