Saturday, March 26, 2011

Physical Fitness Testing Is Asinine

Check out this article from the Los Angeles Times, entitled Only 1 in 3 California students make the grade in physical-fitness test. According to the article, "The 2010 test scores show that 28.7% of the students in grade five, 34.6% in grade seven, and 38.5% in grade nine rated as "fit" in all six areas of the test." Another article on the Huffington Post says these numbers are "indicative of a growing health hazard for kids nationwide."

Is this a joke?

This is from the website of the California Department of Education, an outline of the six areas to be tested:

  1. Aerobic Capacity: PACER (Progressive Aerobic Cardiovascular Endurance Run), One-Mile Run, Walk Test (only for ages 13 or older)
  2. Abdominal Strength and Endurance: Curl-Up
  3. Upper Body Strength and Endurance:Push-Up, Modified Pull-Up, Flexed-Arm Hang
  4. Body Composition: Skinfold Measurements, Body Mass Index, Bioelectric Impedance Analyzer
  5. Trunk Extensor Strength and Flexibility: Trunk Lift
  6. Flexibility: Back-Saver Sit and Reach, Shoulder Stretch

To be designated as a "fit child," one has to pass the test in all six areas. I guess in a world where general intelligence of children is measured by testing in about 6 subjects, it only makes sense that physical fitness would be measured in exactly the same way. But the PFT is even worse than the academic testing that our children have to endure. Because at least the schools try to teach the kids what will be on the academic tests before testing them.

In P.E. class when I was in school, we did things like play floor hockey or softball. We did not practice for the activities on the PFT. How were we supposed to get better at the test activities if we never trained for them? Did standing around holding a hockey stick give us any hope of getting better at doing pull-ups? They would check our "progress" twice a year, as if a few months playing in gym glass twice a week for 30 minutes should be enough to magically increase our scores on the specific test criteria. And then they were shocked when some of us hadn't "progressed."

If these six things are so important to our childrens' health, then why isn't P.E. class dedicated solely to training for them? And if they aren't important enough to do that, then why are we testing them?

I would have been one of the failures. I'm pretty certain I would still fail this test today, even though I consider myself fit. As I have shared before, I could never do a pull-up as a child. And I couldn't run (still can't). I never once passed the physical fitness test (PFT). But I was also on a swim team. I attended daily swim practices (until I quit). Did the fitness test account for that? Nope. I was unfit because I didn't meet their (carefully selected, I'm sure) criteria. Was I obese? Nope. But I would have contributed to the percentage of students who failed this test. I would have been someone they referred to as part of a nationwide health crisis.


  1. I could never do a pull-up either. I was also had terrible flexibility. Luckily we had a point system to judge our fitness. I was still deemed fit because I could max out my points in running and sit-ups.

  2. A point system seems slightly more logical than an all-or-nothing "pass/fail" system. However, I'm sure I would still have failed! I think the only one I could actually pass was the sit-ups. I'm really happy I never have to try (and fail) to prove myself that way again.

  3. I clicked on this article because I have issues with Physical Education in the schools. What I think it should teach is the wonderful variety of ways a person can be active. Instead, part of it is running a certain amount of laps, which teaches children who aren't good at running that physical activity must be a bad thing.