Should school physical fitness tests measure body fat?

Dive Brief:

  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom is proposing an end to the state’s 25-year-old school physical fitness test, dubbed FitnessGram, which includes a controversial body fat test officials say causes shame and anxiety among students, EdSource reports
  • Some stakeholders feel doing away with the test, which includes other measures of fitness, would lead to less accountability at a time when 30% of California’s adolescents are overweight or obese. Linda Darling-Hammond, president of California’s State Board of Education, supports eliminating the test but wants a replacement, citing rising rates of obesity and diabetes among youth.
  • The test measures students’ abilities to perform various fitness tasks like sit-ups, pull-ups and running a mile, and though it has been required for most students in grades 5, 7 and 9, it isn’t part of their P.E. grade. Results are, however, submitted to the California Department of Education and broken down by school and district.

Dive Insight:

California isn’t the only state to use the FitnessGram testing protocol. Alabama and West Virginia employ the test to measure students’ physical fitness levels, according to Shape America.

Shape America says fitness testing is valuable when appropriately integrated into curriculum, but that students’ results should not be used to grade them or to evaluate physical education teachers. The organization reminds educators testing is only part of physical education, and a limited amount of time should be spent on it.

Experts in the fitness field advocate for “age-appropriate” health and fitness skills. Rather than testing students on the number of sit-ups they can perform, fitness advocates say testing should give students skills for lifelong fitness by developing and testing motor skill competence.

The President’s Challenge test is also among those that no longer exist as they did in the past. Recommendations for testing have instead shifted to measuring progress toward physical literacy to reduce the effect of cardiovascular disease.

In some districts, students wear fitness devices to give instructors data on their exercise. For example, armbands used in Burlington-Edison School District in Washington monitor students’ heart rates. Educators have observed that wearable technology seems to inspire students to work harder, but privacy rights on the data gathered must also be considered.

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