Once a year, our so called “fitness levels” are measured by the extremely flawed President’s Physical Fitness Assesment program which determines if you pass or fail physical education (P.E).
Students are measured in their ability to complete physical activities such as running, pullups, pushups and body fat percentage tests. The tests are then sent to the state government for analysis.
There are many daily factors for the results, such as starting points, different bodies, different strengths and the stress put on grades, that significantly skew the results. One factor for myself and my classmates is having P.E. right after lunch. Among other larger things, the time of day can have an impact on results because knowing myself, I can perform better at a different time.
Every student’s test data is sent to the state of California. Our information gives the state a good idea of our health in comparison to other states.
“Because there isn’t an official who can come out to every school and say, ‘that person looks like they’re healthy and fit for their age,’ we have to collect all of this data,” P.E. teacher Stephanie Weden said. “They are just looking for well-rounded people who are flexible and strong, and can walk if not run well.”
Along with sending data to the state, we are required to do fitness testing to create individual goals throughout their own high school P.E. careers.
“Everyone comes from different backgrounds, so not everyone comes in with the same attitude towards health and fitness, so one of the biggest goals for the P.E. department is to distill this lifelong health and fitness goal in students. That being said, if everyone is at different places, we measure a lot on effort [and progress],” Weden said.
If the P.E. department is so fixed on having students set personal fitness goals, they should not be marking students down if they don’t reach their goals.
One of the most hated fitness standards is Body Mass Index (BMI) and mile time. Everyone must run a different mile time depending on their BMI. For those that don’t fit into the healthy category, like freshman soccer player and cross country runner Emma Sharratt, it can be a difficult situation.
“BMI is one of the test categories. Calculated out, mine is not in the ‘healthy range’ even though it is healthy for my body. So, according to the [standards], I already failed. So, if I fail one more, I will fail P.E. all together,” Sharratt said.
The current test does not accurately represent students’ fitness levels. For example, the test favors certain people.
“A lot of the different tests favor certain sets of athletes,” Sharratt said. “For example, the flexibility tests may favor dancers and gymnasts. People who aren’t dancers or gymnasts might struggle with these sections more.”
If you are trying to work on certain fitness categories that you might not be the best at yet, there shouldn’t be a chance of you failing that portion of the test. It comes down to the fact that some people can do certain activities better than others. It is completely unfair and inaccurate for there to be testing categories with very specific pre-determined results, when there are so many different types of people, all at different levels.
“In terms of showing total fitness levels, [the test] is not completely valid because it can be accurate and give the right results, but it doesn’t necessarily give the right results for all bodies,” Weden said.
Many students would take the test even if it was not required, but a choice. Freshman dancer Ashley Lazzaroni said she wouldn’t take part if it was optional, and Sharratt said she would. Physical fitness testing should create a safe environment for trial and error and self goals, but because it is a required test, it is potentially a place for fear and failure.
“The testing pushes kids’ limits on fitness and gets them to move around more, but they might feel bad about themselves if they don’t reach their goals,” Lazzaroni said.
Fitness testing is meant to help students reach goals and live a healthy lifestyle. When asked what her favorite test category was, Lazzaroni answered “pull ups because it’s the only category where it’s okay if I get a low score.”
The effect of the testing is turning out the be the exact opposite of the goal. Students are not inspired to try their hardest, and they aren’t setting goals they actually want to reach. Student’s don’t get any motivation from the activities we do in P.E., so they choose to not try hard, because they don’t care. It’s going to take a big change and a lot more inspiration for the testing to have the wanted outcome.
To benefit student’s bodies, minds and goals, physical fitness testing should have less of an emphasis on counting towards grades and categorizing individuals based on calculated information, and more of an emphasis on how you, personally, can create and maintain a healthy lifestyle.