Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport Lecture Statewide Physical Fitness Testing: A Big Waist or a Big Waste?

By Morrow, James R., Jr.; Ede, Alison | Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, December 2009 | Go to article overview

Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport Lecture Statewide Physical Fitness Testing: A Big Waist or a Big Waste?


Morrow, James R., Jr., Ede, Alison, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport


Statewide physical fitness testing is gaining popularity in the United States because of increased childhood obesity levels, the relations between physical fitness and academic performance, and the hypothesized relations between adult characteristics and childhood physical activity, physical fitness, and health behaviors. Large-scale physical fitness testing can be fraught with problems unless properly planned and conducted. Legislators, administrators, teachers, and parents should consider the following 10 essential issues when conducting large-scale physical fitness testing: purpose of testing, proper planning, training, quality of the data, reporting, support, costs, interpretation, programmatic matters, and policies and politics.

Key words: assessment, evaluation, measurement, schools

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Beginning with the international comparisons conducted by Kraus and Hirschland (1953, 1954) and as evidenced by the many youth fitness tests created in the past 50 years, youth fitness levels have been of keen interest to parents, educators, students, administrators, and the medical community. Morrow, Zhu, Franks, Meredith, and Spain (2009) reviewed this 50-year history of youth fitness testing. We suggest three driving forces to the current interest: (a) childhood obesity levels, (b) the perceived relation between physical fitness/activity and academic performance, and (c) the perception that childhood behaviors, physical fitness, and physical activity track from childhood into adulthood and influence adult behaviors, health, and fitness.

The major influencing factor is the reports that youth obesity levels have tripled in the past 30 years (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2007; Institute of Medicine, 2004). Figure I illustrates the change in youth obesity levels determined with body mass index (BMI). Reporting of BMI and other body composition measurements has resulted in considerable discussion about the impact, importance, and effectiveness of the assessments (He & Evans, 2007; Ikeda, Crawford, & Woodward-Lopez, 2006; Scheier, 2004). A second health-related issue is the growing evidence relating physical fitness/activity to academic achievement (Castelli, Hillman, Buck, & Erwin, 2007; Coe, Pivarnik, Womack, Reeves, & Malina, 2006; Cottrell, Northrup, & Wittberg, 2007; Eveland-Sayers, Farley, Fuller, Morgan, & Caputo, 2009; Taras, 2005; Wittberg, Northrup, & Cottrel, 2009).

Third, there is interest in tracking childhood physical activity, fitness, and health behaviors into adulthood (Campbell et al., 2001; Herman, Craig, Gauvin, & Katzmarzyk, 2008; Kemper, de Vente, van Mechelen, & Twisk, 2001; Kjonniksen, Anderssen, & Wold, 2008; Telama, Yang, Laakso, & Viikari, 1997). Trudeau, Laurencelle, and Shephard (2009) recently suggested that preadolescent physical fitness level had little impact on adult physical activity behaviors, attitudes, and intentions. Figure 2 illustrates the real (solid lines) and hypothesized (dashed lines) relations among these variables.

Since the mid 1950s, there has been much interest in youth fitness test development at the state level but few statewide or national initiatives to measure physical fitness. Notable exceptions included the National Children and Youth Fitness Surveys (National Children and Youth Fitness Study, 1985; National Children and Youth Fitness Study II, 1987) and the National School Population Fitness Survey (President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, 1986). In the past 20+ years there have been calls for national testing (Morrow, 2005; Pate, 1989) for surveillance and/or personal health reporting purposes. However, throughout the past 50+ years there have been cautions, criticisms, and recommendations of youth fitness testing initiatives, practices, polices, and politics (Franks, Morrow, & Plowman, 1988; Seefeldt & Vogel, 1989).

Despite reservations and potential problems, many states have begun statewide youth fitness assessments, and others are giving them serious consideration. …

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