Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Physical Education and School Contextual Factors Relating to Students' Achievement and Cross-Grade Differences in Aerobic Fitness and Obesity

Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Physical Education and School Contextual Factors Relating to Students' Achievement and Cross-Grade Differences in Aerobic Fitness and Obesity

Article excerpt

Using two major data sets from the Texas Youth Fitness Study, ordinary least squares regression, and hierarchical linear modeling, we examined the impact of key correlates in school physical education programs and policies on students 'fitness status and cross-grade differences. While a number of factors, such as teachers' training/updates, recess time, available physical activity space, a school wellness policy, and fitness testing before administration, were confirmed, these correlates can explain only limited variance. Other aspects, such as socioeconomic status and community confounding factors, were recognized and illustrated. Future studies should include more factors such as these in data collection and analysis.

Key words: criterion-related difference, school effects, school physical education program and policy, youth fitness

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It is well known that there are often large cross-school/ regional differences in children and youth fitness levels. The Texas Youth Fitness Study (see Morrow, Martin, Welk, Zhu, & Meredith, 2010; Welk, Meredith, Ihmels, & Seeger, 2010) verified this once again. A natural question, then, is, "Why do differences occur?" Identifying the key factors influencing fitness level differences will help in designing better, targeted interventions. From a social-ecological perspective, children and youth are nested in a multilevel social structure (e.g., family, school, local community, society, etc.), and factors at each level have an impact on their physical fitness. Because children and youth spend a lot of time in school, identifying school-related factors and policies that may affect their physical fitness is valuable.

Many factors, such as qualified teachers, sufficient physical education time, reasonable class size, adequate facilities and equipment, a well planned curriculum, appropriate assessment procedures, positive administrative support, and appropriate policies have been identified as critical factors in determining students' fitness at the school level (see Zhu, Welk, Meredith, & Boiarskaia, 2010). Cross-school differences in these factors are expected, which was verified in the Texas teacher survey study (Zhu et al., 2010). Using recess as an example, about 24% of elementary school teachers reported no recess in their school, 68% reported once a day, 6% twice a day, and 1% three times a day. Reported recess lengths also varied, with 12% reporting 1-10 min, 49% reporting 11-20 min, and 18% reporting 21 min or more.

Efforts have been made to link school factors to fitness in children and youth (see e.g., Chow, McKenzie, & Louie, 2008; Dale, Corbin, & Dale, 2000; Datar & Sturm, 2004; McKenzie et al., 2001; National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 1996; van Beurden et al., 2003; Zhu, 1997). Most studies in this area, however, focused on the relationship between school factors and students' performance in one or several fitness tests, but not if they met corresponding criterion-referenced evaluation standards. Few investigated the impact of these factors on differences in meeting health standards. For example, although aerobic capacity improved as children got older, the percentage of children achieving the FITNESSGRAM[R] Healthy Fitness Zone[TM] (HFZ), declined during the same period, as illustrated by Welk et al. (2010). In fact, there has been a worldwide decline in aerobic capacity during the past two decades (Tomkinson & Olds, 2007). It is assumed that the change in achieving the HFZs varies from school to school and from school district to school district and that local school physical education programs/policies and other school- and community-related factors can explain the variation. Yet, this issue has not been well researched. Studying the effectiveness of an education program on age-related changes or differences in criterion-referenced achievements or evaluation is known as the criterion-referenced student growth analyses (Betebenner, 2009). …

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