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Posted at 5:00 PM ET, 06/ 2/2010

Must we link P.E. (and everything else) to test scores?

By Valerie Strauss

Is there nothing in education today that we do not feel the need to justify through improved standardized test scores?

A new report is out about physical education in public schools. The news is not good:

*Just more than 84 percent of states mandate physical education for elementary school students, 78 percent of states (40) mandate it for middle/junior high school students and 90 percent (46) mandate it for high school students -- but those statistics are deceiving because:

-- Only 37 percent of states (19) require some form of student assessment in physical education.
-- More than half of states allow waivers from physical education and more than half (not necessarily the same states) allow students to substitute other activities for phys ed.
-- Currently, 43 percent of states allow required physical education credits to be earned through online physical education courses. Of these 22 states, only 27 percent offer comprehensive physical education, defined as addressing all state or national standards; 41 percent offer a course in personal fitness and wellness; 14 percent offer some type of sports, such as golf; and 18 percent offer weight training online.

*Fewer than one-third of all children 6 to 17 engage in vigorous activity, defined as participating in physical activity for at least 20 minutes that made the child sweat and breathe hard.

*Among children ages 6-11, 33 percent are overweight and 17 percent are obese. Meanwhile, 34 percent of adolescents and teens ages 12-19 are overweight and 17.6 percent are obese.

*It is estimated that obesity will cost the United States $344 billion in medical-related expenses by 2018.

You would think that those statistics alone would make a good enough case for the inclusion of effective physical education programs in schools. First lady Michelle Obama did not launch her "Let's Move" anti-obesity campaign to help young people get back into shape without good reason.

But no, the report, issued by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education and the American Heart Association, then feels the need to justify its call for more physical education by connecting it to improved academic achievement.

It reports that:

*A 2007-08 study of more than 2.4 million Texas students found that students who were physically fit were more likely to do well on the state’s standardized tests than students who were not physically fit.

*In 2009, the New York City Health Department and Department of Education reported that physical fitness was associated with higher academic achievement among their public school students.

*A 2010 Centers for Disease Control report analyzes a large body of evidence linking physical education and school-based physical activity with academic performance, including cognitive skills and attitudes, academic behaviors and academic achievement.

What’s so wrong with this?

It makes health less important than academics. It shouldn't be.

The problem is the same when reports about the importance of arts education make the same link to improved academics, as if studying music and art weren’t important enough on their own without connecting them to improved algebra scores.

Even if the standardized test scores were excellent measures of how much a student has learned, this forced connection would be a problem. But they aren’t, making these constant links even more insidious.

For young people to grow up to be successful adults, they really do have to be able to do more than get high standardized test scores and great grades. We make that less possible every time we insist on showing the worth of something non-academic by declaring that it has a positive impact on test scores.

Here are the guidelines for physical activity recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

*Children and adolescents should engage in 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of physical activity daily.
-- Aerobic: Most of the 60 or more minutes a day should be either moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, and should include vigorous-intensity physical activity at least three days a week.
-- Muscle-strengthening: As part of their 60 or more minutes of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include muscle-strengthening physical activity at least three days a week.
-- Bone-strengthening: As part of their 60 or more minutes of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include bone-strengthening physical activity at least three days a week.

*It is important to encourage young people to participate in physical activities that are appropriate for their age, that are enjoyable and that offer variety.

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education also recommends that schools provide 150 minutes a week of instructional physical education for elementary school children and 225 minutes a week for middle and high school students throughout the school year.

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By Valerie Strauss  | June 2, 2010; 5:00 PM ET
Categories:  Health, Sports, Standardized Tests  | Tags:  american heart association, let's move, michelle obama, michelle obama's anti-obesity campaign, obama and get Fit, obesity, obesity epidemic, physical activity and health, physical education, physical education and test scores, recommended physical education guidelines, standardized test scores  
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Thank you, Valerie, for continuing to champion the entirety of a student's education, much of which is not truly represented by test scores.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | June 2, 2010 8:57 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: scoutbono | June 3, 2010 7:07 AM | Report abuse

How many people are aware that the only reason the schools started phys ed programs in the first place was because in WWI (Yes, WWI, not WWII) the Army complained about the large number of recruits who were unfit for induction. Most of these, though, came from farms where there was plenty of physical labor; the lack of fitness was due to disease and malnutrition.

As usual, the schools and society tried to solve a problem by focusing on the wrong cause--kind of like using standardized tests to check whether students are meeting non-established standards.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | June 3, 2010 8:28 AM | Report abuse

Well, my experience is that when I demanded to know why my 5th grader was not getting recess or PE or any form of exercise, I was told that the children must pass the Florida standardized test (FCAT). Florida law requires 150 minutes of PE each week, but compliance with the law is a joke. So, I resorted to trying to convince the teacher, principal, and district officials that exercise would improve my child's test scores. As a parent, I try everything I can to get a proper, well-rounded education for my child, despite the nation-wide insane focus on test scores. NCLB and RttT are killing our kids and their future.

Posted by: PurpleViolet | June 6, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

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