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Measurement in Physical Education

and Exercise Science, 12: 146–166, 2008


Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN 1091-367X print / 1532-7841 online
DOI: 10.1080/10913670802216122

PEDAGOGICAL PERSPECTIVE

A Lasting Impression: A Pedagogical


Perspective on Youth Fitness Testing
Stephen Silverman
Department of Biobehavioral Sciences
Teachers College, Columbia University

Xiaofen Deng Keating


Department of Curriculum and Instruction
The University of Texas at Austin

Sharon R. Phillips
Department of Biobehavioral Sciences
Teachers College, Columbia University

This article addresses ways in which fitness tests can be used positively in physical
education. We take the position throughout the article that fitness tests should be
used as formative evaluation to further educational goals. We begin by discussing
the different ways in which adults and children use fitness tests. The next section,
the heart of the article, provides guidelines for incorporating fitness testing into
the physical education curriculum and maintains that: (a) fitness testing should be
implemented as an integral part of fitness instruction; (b) fitness testing results
should be used to assess fitness instruction and student learning; and (c) the
expectation should be that all children have the potential to meet basic health-
related fitness standards. The final section focuses on the related issues of students’
perceptions of fitness tests and ways to assist teachers in productively implementing
fitness tests.
Key words: Fitness testing, physical education, teaching

Correspondence should be sent to Stephen Silverman, Box 126 Teachers College, Columbia
University, New York, NY 10027. E-mail: ss928@columbia.edu
PEDAGOGICAL PERSPECTIVE ON FITNESS TESTING 147

As we began to think about how to approach this article, one author was at a
Thanksgiving Day dinner at a relative’s home. This was a traditional event, and
the hosts had invited a large group of family and friends. There was lots of food,
too many desserts, and interesting discussion throughout dinner. After dinner,
the discussion moved from politics to a discussion of physical activity. One of
the hosts and another person at the table had trained together for the Philadelphia
Half Marathon and had completed it a few weeks before.
As the discussion continued, someone who does not engage in regular physical
activity stated “that Chicken Fat song and physical education class ruined me for
doing exercise.” As most middle-aged adults who attended a public elementary
school in the United States in the 1960s will remember, “Chicken Fat” was a
song developed by the President’s Council for Physical Fitness and Sport and
was disseminated to virtually every school in the country.1 The song was sung
by Robert Preston (the star of The Music Man movie) and, while lively and well
done, it had as its message that students were fat and inactive and should do
calisthenics every day to get in shape.
The person who did not like the Chicken Fat song felt that his physical
education classes did not help him enjoy physical activity. In fact, he went on to
say that he always did poorly on the physical fitness tests that the School District
of Philadelphia required, and that these tests were designed to embarrass those
children who could not do well. Clearly his physical education classes—and its
fitness education and testing—left a lasting impression. We suspect that he is not
alone and that the inappropriate implementation of fitness education and tests
can influence children in ways for which we would not want to take credit.
This experience makes it clear that fitness education and, especially, fitness
testing can be conducted in ways that are detrimental to children and their future
physical activity. We also believe that there are ways that fitness tests can be
used to enhance the education of children and help them learn more about fitness
and physical activity—and promote positive attitudes about physical activity.
There have been many different approaches to the discussion of fitness
testing, and these discussions have intensified in recent years (Cale, Harris, &
Chen, 2007; Corbin, Pangrazi, & Welk, 1995; Rowland, 1995). Basically, the
discussions have taken three forms. First, some researchers have suggested
discontinuing youth fitness testing in school-based physical education programs
(Rowland, 1995) due to the emergence of a new strategy focusing on physical
activity instead of health-related fitness (Corbin et al., 1995; Rowland, 1995).
Second, other scholars have suggested focusing on the educational aspects of
tests and linking testing, teaching, and improvement together (Cale & Harris,
2002; Corbin & Pangrazi, 1993; Ratliffe & Ratliffe, 1994). Third, it has been

1
Go to http://www.wfmu.org/365/2003/276.shtml and click on the blue link “Robert Preston—
Chicken Fat” to listen to the song.
148 SILVERMAN, KEATING, AND PHILLIPS

suggested that a thorough investigation of the merits of youth fitness testing is


needed before making any final decisions on the future of such tests (Cale et al.,
2007; Corbin et al., 1995; Keating & Silverman, 2004).
While this discussion has occurred in our academic journals, there has been
a continued use of fitness tests in schools. The National Association for Sport
and Physical Education (NASPE; 2004), in its standards for physical education,
included the use of fitness testing results to develop personalized physical activity
programs for secondary school students, indicating their strong endorsement
for regular youth fitness testing. Some states now require regular youth fitness
testing (Ferguson, Keating, Guan, Chen, & Bridges, 2007; NASPE, 2006)—
with or without a direct tie to an educational program—in response to calls
to combat physical inactivity and obesity (United States Department of Health
and Human Services [USDHHS], 1991, 2000; USDHHS Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and
Health Promotion, 1996). We believe that legislatively mandated health-related
fitness testing is best implemented with a strong fitness education program.
We further believe that fitness testing can be used in positive ways that will
enhance the educational experience and promote good attitudes in children. Our
backgrounds in physical education pedagogy and in measurement and assessment
lead us to the conclusion that we should not stop fitness testing as suggested
by Rowland (1995), but that we should use fitness tests in the context of a
comprehensive physical education curriculum. The No Child Left Behind legis-
lation in the United States has used testing as the major form of accountability
with all instruction focused on increasing test scores. While including fitness
testing as an accountability procedure in physical education may be appealing
to some, it might lead to children who are fitter but no better educated or more
likely to continue their participation in out of school physical activity. Tests used
positively, however, should be a part of fitness education.
In this article, we elaborate on positive, educational ways to use fitness tests.
First, we briefly discuss different uses of fitness tests between children and adults
as a backdrop for the rest of the article. Next, we address positive approaches to
fitness testing in physical education programs. As a major part of this section,
we provide guidelines for fitness testing in schools. The final section discusses
the related issues of students’ perceptions of fitness testing and helping teachers
prepare for the positive use of fitness tests.

DIFFERENT USES OF FITNESS TESTS BETWEEN


ADULTS AND CHILDREN

It certainly makes sense to everyone reading this article that there are fundamental
differences between children and adults and the way that they relate to how
PEDAGOGICAL PERSPECTIVE ON FITNESS TESTING 149

fitness tests are used—as well as a host of other factors. In the context of physical
education, children do not decide whether to participate in fitness testing or,
in most cases, how to use the results of those assessments. Adults can choose
whether to use fitness testing as a summative assessment (i.e., to see current
health-related fitness levels at the end of a period of time without intending
to use it for fitness program planning) of how fit they are or as formative
assessment (i.e., to continuously assess health-related fitness levels as a means
to modify a fitness program) as a part of fitness program planning—or simply
not to engage in any form of fitness testing. Adults make decisions about how
and whether to use testing information, and children often cannot make those
decisions. Adults who decide to undergo fitness testing—informally or formally
with a trainer—already have some commitment to do physical activity, and it is
also likely that they have the attitudes that support this desire. In addition, adults
generally complete fitness assessments by themselves or with one other person
instead of in a group—and they can stop the assessment at any time. As a result
of these contextual differences, as noted in the introduction, youth fitness testing
can have the opposite result from the one desired and can have consequences
for how children develop attitudes toward, and patterns of, physical activity.
This distinction between how adults and children use fitness tests is a key
issue in thinking about fitness testing, even though youth and adult fitness
tests share the same components—body composition, cardiovascular endurance,
flexibility, and muscular strength and endurance (American College of Sports
Medicine [ACSM], 2000; President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports
[PCPFS], 2007; Welk & Meredith, 2008). The purpose of testing and the passing
standards (e.g., the healthy zone in the FITNESSGRAM® and the President’s
Challenge, however, vary greatly (PCPFS, 2007; Welk & Meredith, 2008). Youth
fitness testing must play an important educational role in school settings (Bar-
Or, 1993; Cale & Harris, 2002; Whitehead, Pemberton, & Corbin, 1990), and
the implementation of fitness testing should further educational goals, and any
deviation will result in the misuse of fitness tests.

POSITIVE PEDAGOGICAL APPROACHES TO


FITNESS TESTING IN SCHOOL PHYSICAL
EDUCATION

For fitness tests to have a positive impact in schools, we suggest the following
guidelines. First and foremost, youth fitness testing should be implemented as an
integral part of fitness instruction. Assessment is an important aspect of teaching,
but without a solid curriculum it is merely testing and nothing more (Stewart,
Elliot, Boyce, & Block, 2005).
150 SILVERMAN, KEATING, AND PHILLIPS

Second, fitness testing results should be used by teachers to assess their


fitness instruction and, in particular, the student’s learning (Corbin, 1981) when
physical activity is taught. The form of self-assessment should address fitness,
the promotion of physical activity, and the influence of class climate and other
instructional variables on student attitude (Silverman & Subramaniam, 1999)
about physical activity. Since the primary mission of K–12 physical education
is to teach students knowledge and skills to have various options to engage
in a physically active adulthood (Tappe & Burgeson, 2004), teachers—and
curriculum planners—should consider both the short- and long- term effects of
fitness testing on children.
The third guideline, as with all school subjects, is that teachers should have
the expectation that all youngsters have the potential to meet basic standards
for their grade level. As with reading and math instruction, it is important for
students to improve their fitness and move toward meeting standards (i.e., healthy
zone). We believe, however, that expecting students to meet standards without
an integrated educational program that addresses fitness and attitude toward
physical activity is not realistic, nor is it educationally sound. Simply testing
student health-related fitness does not accomplish any educational goal.
We believe, as do others, that the appropriate use of fitness testing can help
fulfill its complete pedagogical role in school settings (Cale & Harris, 2002;
Corbin et al., 1995; Fox & Biddle, 1988; Pate, 1989; Whitehead et al., 1990),
and that these guidelines can go a long way to accomplishing these goals. Others
in the fields of physical education pedagogy and measurement and assessment
in physical education (Cale et al., 2007; Corbin et al., 1995; Franks, Morrow,
& Plowman, 1988; Harris & Cale, 2006; Whitehead et al., 1990) have noted
that youth fitness testing can be beneficial to children if used appropriately.
We would only dismount the horse of youth fitness testing as recommended by
Rowland (1995) and Cale and Harris (2002) if fitness testing is used in isolation
without an educational purpose. We will discuss the application of the guidelines
presented above in the sections that immediately follow.

Fitness Testing Should be Implemented as an Integral


Part of Fitness Instruction
It should not be assumed that fitness testing will automatically increase students’
physical activity levels, as the primary function of testing is to assess student
health-related fitness (Franks et al., 1988). Health-related fitness testing by itself
will not promote physical activity if the tests are used inappropriately (Corbin
et al., 1995; Keating, 2003; McKenzie & Kahan, 2004). As we will note often
throughout this article, fitness testing has the potential to promote physical
activity and, thereby, improve health-related fitness only when fitness testing
is used as an educational tool. Unfortunately, in many schools, fitness testing
PEDAGOGICAL PERSPECTIVE ON FITNESS TESTING 151

constitutes the entire fitness education curriculum (Cale & Harris, 2002) with
small amounts of moderate to vigorous physical activity at other times (Freedson
& Rowland, 1992). For example, Texas recently passed a mandated youth fitness
testing law, and students in grades 3–12 will be tested every year. High school
students, however, are required to take only three semesters of physical education,
and many substitutions are allowed (e.g., band, athletics, Junior ROTC). Thus, it
is very likely that fitness testing will be the entire fitness education program, since
students are only required to be tested each year. Health-related fitness tests have
often been an almost irrelevant adjunct to the curriculum (Keating, 2003; Pate,
1989). Instructional time spent on fitness testing without necessarily positively
increasing youngsters’ physical activity levels and health-related fitness does not
make sound use of fitness tests.
This section will address ways to use fitness testing as an integral aspect of
fitness instruction. While we have cited primarily journal articles in this section,
there are a variety of other practical and more comprehensive resources (NASPE,
2005a, 2005b, 2005c) to assist teachers in developing the physical education
curriculum and good teaching practices.

Health-Related Fitness in the Physical Education Curriculum. Physical


activity can help build health-related fitness, but evidence (Boreham & Riddoch,
2001; Corbin et al., 1995; Rice & Howell, 2000; Welk, 2002) suggests that
other factors, such as genetics and maturation, impact fitness as well. Students
often believe, however, that physical activity and health-related fitness are the
same thing (Brock & Fittipaldi-Wert, 2005). As an initial step in a fitness
education program, fitness tests can be used to teach students the difference
between the two concepts. Since knowledge acquisition should be a component
of any educational program that focuses on fitness and the promotion of physical
activity, understanding these concepts can be applied to subsequent aspects of the
curriculum (e.g., planning fitness and physical activity programs or self-assessing
health-related fitness and physical activity).
It generally is believed that physical activity is the process, and the outcome
of physical activity is health-related fitness (Cale & Harris, 2002; McKenzie &
Kahan, 2004), which consists of a set of physical attributes (Corbin et al., 1995;
Pate, 1991; Rice & Howell, 2000; Simons-Morton, Parcel, O’Hara, Blair, &
Pate, 1988). These attributes are body composition, cardiovascular endurance,
muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility (Corbin, LeMasurier, &
Lambdin, 2007; Corbin, Welk, Corbin, & Welk, 2006; Donatelle, 2002; Jackson,
2006; Pate, 1991; Rice & Howell, 2000; Simons-Morton et al., 1988). Each
health-related fitness component is independent, and we cannot compensate for
a deficit in one component by excelling in another (ACSM, 1998; Corbin et al.,
2006; PCPFS, 2007; Welk & Meredith, 2008). Through youth fitness testing,
teachers can teach about health-related fitness and help students understand
152 SILVERMAN, KEATING, AND PHILLIPS

the components and the interrelations between them. In addition, by teaching


students about the components and standards for their age, teachers can teach
the necessary knowledge for students to understand health-related fitness, why
each score is independent, and why a total testing score is not used.

Teaching Differences Between Health-Related Fitness and Physical


Activity. A critical part of the debate on the merits of youth fitness testing
has centered on whether physical activity should be assessed instead of health-
related fitness, implying that physical activity is a larger concern (Cale &
Harris, 2002; Harris & Cale, 2006; Rowland, 1995). Shifting the focus from
health-related fitness testing to physical activity assessment reflects findings
that suggest that physical activity is more directly related to a child’s health
status (Corbin et al., 1995; Pate, Dowda, & Ross, 1990; Rice & Howell, 2000;
Rowland, 1995; Trost, 2004) and is independent of genetics and more amenable
to change. As a result, active students may perform more poorly on health-related
fitness tests than inactive students. This can occur for a number of reasons and
often is a result of decreased student motivation, student learned-helplessness
(Martinek & Griffith, 1994), and by students being turned off physical activity as
a result (Corbin, 2002; Corbin et al., 1995). Therefore, it has been suggested that
assessment of health-related fitness is counter-productive (Cale & Harris, 2002;
Rowland, 1995).
There are at least two major reasons that health-related fitness testing can
be valuable in schools, and it is important to include both physical activity and
health-related fitness in physical education—and teach students the difference
and complementary nature of the concepts. First, if we want students to under-
stand these concepts, they must be taught as a part of the curriculum. Fitness
education should be educative, and these basic distinctions and the associated
assessments are critical for a physically educated person. Health-related fitness
testing can be used to examine the concepts and components of health-related
fitness and physical activity. For example, while introducing the curl-up test,
the teacher can discuss anatomy and the functions of the abdominal muscles
and also how to improve their strength and endurance. In addition to providing
important knowledge, this effort will inform students about the purpose of each
test. Since lack of knowledge about fitness testing has been shown to influence
students’ performance, motivation, and affect (Hopple & Graham, 1995), without
the knowledge of health-related fitness and physical activity, it is likely they
will view testing negatively, and their experiences in physical education will
influence their attitudes toward future assessment and physical activity.
The second reason for teaching both health-related fitness and physical activity
is that a careful examination of the physical activity assessment program included
in the President’s Challenge (i.e., being active on a regular basis) (PCPFS,
2007) indicates that this assessment may mislead students into thinking that
PEDAGOGICAL PERSPECTIVE ON FITNESS TESTING 153

regular participation in any mild to moderate physical activity for 30–60 min is
sufficient to maintain their health. Focusing only on physical activity ignores the
basic understanding about health-related fitness, which has a set of independent
components (ACSM, 1998). Through health-related fitness testing, teachers can
teach students why they need to participate in a variety of physical activity
forms and how to improve corresponding health-related fitness components.
More importantly, student body composition will not be assessed if only physical
activity is assessed, limiting our ability to identify and prevent possible health
problems. Given that childhood obesity has a carry-over effect into adulthood
(Dietz & Gortmaker, 2001; Goran, Reynolds, & Lindquist, 1999), and successful
weight intervention in children aged 11–19 years would result in a 30% to 45%
reduction in adult obesity (Griffity, Rivers, & Hoinville, 1985), the inability to
screen for potential weight problems at an early stage could be very costly from
the public health perspective.
Using health-related fitness testing to teach students about health-related
fitness provides an excellent way to examine health-related fitness and physical
activity concepts. Students can, as a part of this, be educated that health-related
fitness impacts not only their health (Simons-Morton et al., 1988), but also
their cognitive skills (Hillman, Castelli, & Buck, 2005). In addition, student
cognition about fitness tests plays a critical role in the establishment and mainte-
nance of both physical activity and health-related fitness (Keating, 2003; Slava,
Laurie, & Corbin, 1984). The fact that physical inactivity and obesity in the
general population have dramatically increased in the last 30 years (USDHHS,
1980, 2000; USDHHS Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National
Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 1996) partially
suggests that physical education programs may not have done an adequate job of
teaching students about the importance of health-related fitness or have taught
it in ways that have not followed the guidelines presented here. If health-related
fitness testing is done in isolation, there should be no expectation that students
will develop the knowledge that can be developed from an understanding of both
health-related fitness and physical activity assessment.

Teaching Assessment Skills to Students. If students learn to use fitness


tests for self-assessment, there may be benefits that go beyond mere under-
standing of health-related fitness and physical activity. The most obvious
example is when children and adults who can assess their fitness can then use the
information to plan their own physical activity programs. The NASPE (2004)
standards for a physically educated person include being able to develop fitness
and physical activity plans. Teaching students in physical education class—by
examples used in class—that fitness testing can be used as formative assessment
to develop and modify their physical activity routines can help them have the
knowledge to start at an appropriate level. Having assessment skills also can help
154 SILVERMAN, KEATING, AND PHILLIPS

keep students participating in physical activity, if they know what to expect. The
formative testing experiences will reinforce fitness gains, and this may provide
additional motivation to continue to participate in physical activity. For example,
time could be devoted at the beginning of each class for students to assess a
health-related fitness component and record the information in individual student
portfolios. Students can then compare the scores with past performance and
design reasonable goals and activities to reach them.
The three authors and most readers of this article have friends and loved
ones who do not participate in regular physical activity. Given all the attention
on the health benefits of physical activity, we strongly suspect that this is not
because our friends and loved ones lack the knowledge that inactivity is bad for
them. It is possible that, along with other physical activity participation, they
have had bad experiences in physical education in general (Luke & Sinclair,
1991; Silverman & Subramaniam, 1999; Subramaniam & Silverman, 2002) or,
specifically, with fitness testing and physical activity instruction (see Hopple &
Graham, 1995 as an example). Providing in-class applications of the appropriate
use of fitness tests can equip students with the knowledge and skills to participate
in physical activity and to perform self-assessment.

Examples for Incorporating Health-Related Fitness Assessment into


Fitness Education. Fitness education is the key to making fitness testing
meaningful and worthwhile. There are a variety of ways to incorporate fitness
testing into the physical education curriculum, and this can be accomplished at
any age level. There are two overarching main principles that we believe should
guide fitness education. First, teachers should inform students why they are
doing the testing or other fitness-based activity. Whether through self-discovery
or simple command style lessons, students should understand the utility of
the instructional content. As with any teaching episode (Rink, 2003, 2006),
students must perceive their engagement in the content as meaningful. Without
this, it is unlikely that students will be motivated or develop positive attitudes
(Subramaniam & Silverman, 2000, 2002). Second, fitness testing should be
formative, and teachers should plan the educational experience to use fitness
testing results to design future activities while also teaching students that health-
related fitness can be improved and that assessment is integral to that process. If
as Wood (2003) suggested, this can be accomplished in authentic settings (e.g.,
when high-school students test and then use the information to plan and evaluate
their own physical activity programs) it will likely have more lasting impact.
One way to conduct fitness education is by infusing fitness lessons into
the curriculum throughout the year by having a curriculum that complements
a fitness education unit and is integrated into other units. During nearly any
lesson, students can be taught about fitness. This can be done by simply relating
each activity to fitness—and the periodic fitness assessments. The goal would be
PEDAGOGICAL PERSPECTIVE ON FITNESS TESTING 155

that over time, students understand how each activity is related to their fitness,
how to improve that component of fitness, and know why that aspect of fitness
is important. For example, first-grade students participating in a tag game in
an elementary school gymnasium should know that they are exercising their
heart, that this will help make them healthy, and that the health-related fitness
component is called aerobic fitness. In subsequent years, when health-related
fitness testing is initiated, the teacher can use this foundation to help students
understand the purpose of testing and how to use the tests to assess themselves.
As another example of integrating fitness education and fitness testing
throughout the year, in a high-school tennis unit, students will likely know that
this activity can be aerobic and help prevent heart disease. The teacher can
address fitness for tennis by incorporating specific information and activities
that improve fitness. Each student could then refer back to health-related fitness
tests, plan activities that will impact fitness for tennis, and use the tests to
monitor their health-related fitness. Since tennis is a life-long activity in which
many adults participate, incorporating fitness education and assessment with skill
development may carry over to adult participation. In any case, the use of fitness
tests as formative assessment integrated into a variety of units helps students to
understand health-related fitness—and how testing can be used to improve and
enhance fitness.
Extending fitness education to out of school activities is another way
to integrate health-related fitness and testing into physical education. As an
example, students could wear pedometers for multiple days, summarize the infor-
mation from the pedometers, and analyze and reflect on their physical activity
behaviors. They could then use this information and their test results to plan for
increased activity levels that will help make them more fit. If the pedometers
report intensity as well as the number of steps, students would have more infor-
mation to better analyze what they have done and to plan future physical activity.
While infusing fitness throughout the year would clearly enhance fitness
education, having a specific unit on fitness also can increase student knowledge,
attitudes, and fitness. Optimally, a specific unit on fitness would accompany a
curriculum where fitness is taught throughout the year and, as suggested above,
is integrated into every unit. A fitness unit that includes health-related fitness
testing at the beginning of the school year could be used as a springboard for all
subsequent fitness education.
There are a variety of ways to teach a fitness unit imbedded within an
assessment component. We would argue that the unit must address knowledge
and attitudes—with testing used as a basis for making other decisions. For
example, in an elementary school, a teacher may address the components of
health-related fitness, administer tests, and then students could develop and
implement a plan to increase their fitness. This could be as simple as asking
a fourth-grade student to analyze his or her upper body muscular strength and
156 SILVERMAN, KEATING, AND PHILLIPS

endurance results, work in a reciprocal teaching mode with a partner to develop


a plan for improvement, implement the plan, and periodically assess how he
or she is doing. We would opt for frequent student-initiated testing, but if all
testing was planned by the teacher and included a student-based analysis, that
also would contribute to increased knowledge, attitudes, and improvement of
the health-related fitness component.
In high schools, a fitness education unit could be designed to be similar
to the physical activity opportunities the students will have as adults. For
example, after fitness testing, students could provide an analysis of their strengths
and weaknesses and develop a fitness program. At schools that have a lot of
equipment (similar to adult gyms), the students could develop weight training
or cardiovascular fitness programs, or both. The teacher could use a variety of
teaching strategies (e.g., reciprocal teaching, self-check against predetermined
rubrics) and assessments (e.g., using the analysis and plan for providing feedback
to the student) to help students improve and monitor their programs. In situa-
tions where the school-based equipment is limited, the instruction could focus
on using health-related fitness test results to develop fitness plans that can be
reasonably accomplished in out-of-school settings. This unit could include a
consumer aspect, where students visit and evaluate out-of-school options for
physical activity (e.g., parks and recreation department facilities). In addition, in
areas without resources, instructing students in practical physical activity options
(e.g., developing a walking program in an urban city) can help them realize that
there are many possibilities for implementing an active lifestyle besides more
formal venues such as fitness centers.
It is important that health-related fitness testing is accompanied by fitness
education no matter how this is accomplished. All three authors would agree
that assessing a student on geometry at the end of the school year during which
algebra was taught would not be a viable or defensible assessment option.
Similarly, testing student fitness levels without having fitness education would
accomplish little—and make little educational sense.

Assessing Fitness Instruction


We believe that assessing fitness instruction and how fitness test results are
used in physical education should occur at many levels and that teachers and
administrators should plan for this as a part of curriculum development and the
normal teaching process (Masterson & Walkuski, 2004). A cycle of planning
and assessment is necessary in order to improve the student learning experience
and to meet the goals of instruction. Without assessment being included early in
the process, it does not seem reasonable that it will be of any real consequence.
Planning to plan—without action—does not move things forward. The remainder
of this section will describe the steps teachers can use to assess fitness instruction.
PEDAGOGICAL PERSPECTIVE ON FITNESS TESTING 157

Teacher Reflection as a Form of Assessment. The first step in assessing


fitness education and the results of fitness testing is for the teacher to do
self-assessment and reflect on the lesson (Schön, 1983). Reflection can take
place in many ways (Tsangaridou & Siedentop, 1995), and we particularly like
O’Sullivan’s (2003) idea that teachers act as problem solvers (i.e., design the unit
or lesson to achieve a goal and reflect to assess whether the goal was reached
and whether there are other ways to enhance instruction for the remainder of the
year and in subsequent years).
As an example of reflection in a fitness education unit, a teacher may plan a
lesson so students can assess their abdominal strength and endurance and use this
to plan activities to enhance this health-related fitness component. The teacher
can distribute the results of the FITNESSGRAM® assessment, use reciprocal
teaching so that students reassess abdominal strength and endurance, and then
use the same reciprocal teams to develop and critique future plans. At the end
of the lesson, the teacher could reflect on many things, including whether (a)
the students are properly assessing each other; (b) the plans are appropriate to
developing fitness; (c) the class climate is productive and likely to contribute to
positive student attitudes for students at all fitness levels; and (d) the teaching
technique has the potential to be used to develop self-assessment skills. There
are many other things that could be assessed, and those interested in developing
reflection skills will find Banville and Rikard (2001) a good place to start.

Student Learning. The second step in assessing fitness instruction and


the use of fitness testing results is to examine student learning from multiple
perspectives (e.g., increases in the various components of health-related fitness,
increases in physical activity, the development of self-assessment and fitness-
planning skills and other knowledge, and attitude toward fitness and physical
activity). It is important that teachers go beyond mere health-related fitness test
scores. Often, health-related fitness test scores are used to evaluate instruction
and students because it is convenient, even if health-related fitness or physical
activity is not one of the instructional goals. The use of high stakes tests (i.e.,
those tests where a decision about the score plays a large role in the evaluation
process) for assessment, accountability, and improvement has inherent problems
(Harris & Herrington, 2006). The use of these health-related fitness tests may
tell how fit students are, but may also place too much emphasis on current
fitness and ignore fitness improvement, physical activity, knowledge, and attitude
development. As Hopple and Graham (1995) have shown, testing by itself can
result in negative consequences that are the opposite of what is intended in a
fitness education program. If health-related fitness tests are not used as part of a
fitness education unit in the ways we previously described, it would accomplish
nothing to administer tests and evaluate scores in ways that are not consistent
with the educational purposes of testing.
158 SILVERMAN, KEATING, AND PHILLIPS

The Appropriate Use of Accountability for Assessing Fitness Education.


Instead of using health-related fitness test scores for accountability, it would serve
the educational mission much better if principals and school districts looked at
the development of knowledge and fitness-related self-assessment skills, student
attitudes, and improvement of fitness scores with the idea that every student has
the potential to improve within his or her maturation level and genetic potential.
Principals should be aware that fitness testing may have negative consequences
if used in inappropriate ways and that, if we want students to live physically
active lives, then testing must only be used within the context of a complete
fitness education program to reach educationally sound goals.
Educating principals and other school district administrators about the goals
of physical education in general and fitness in particular may require work by
teachers, university professors, and professional organizations. Since many find
an elegant simplicity in using test scores for accountability, it is important for
professionals in our field not to yield and realize that the negative effects of this
approach will be counterproductive. Principals who stress the use of rubrics for
assessing the educational goals of fitness education and testing will advance real
accountability much farther than the simple use of fitness test scores.
Before moving on, we must stress that we believe the assessment and account-
ability program, if designed appropriately, could be used as one aspect of student
assessment and grading. For example, a rubric, which would assess a student’s
ability to use fitness tests to plan future activity based on a written assignment
and logs of physical activity, could be administered for each student and then
aggregated across students for evidence of learning. Conversely, using health-
related fitness test scores for grades fails to acknowledge differences in students’
initial fitness, body build, and fitness potential and how this might affect attitude
toward fitness and physical activity. The use of fitness test scores without inter-
pretation for grades cannot be justified within the guidelines we present here.
We realize a more comprehensive and educationally sound assessment program
may be more work intensive, but it also may be the only instructional assessment
that will allow teachers and schools to meet their goals.

Meeting Fitness Standards


As is obvious from our discussion above, we believe that health-related fitness
tests that are used in an appropriate educational manner can enhance student
learning. Some ways are much better than others to integrate testing into fitness
education, and students and teachers should aspire to a continuous process of
monitoring and improving fitness. Maturation and motivation have to be taken
into account when interpreting fitness tests (Armstrong, 1995; Armstrong &
Biddle, 1992; Cale & Harris, 2002; Corbin, 2002; Pangrazi, 2000). Although this
is true, and there is wide variation in the capabilities of students, the constant
PEDAGOGICAL PERSPECTIVE ON FITNESS TESTING 159

message of fitness instruction should be that everyone can work toward being fit
and reaching health-related fitness standards. In our view, the focus should be
on the evolving fitness process, participating in a variety of physical activities,
and continuing this throughout life. It is clear that a well-planned program with
a positive classroom environment can yield great benefits.

OTHER ISSUES AFFECTING FITNESS TEST USE

In this final section, we address two issues that impact the use of fitness tests
in schools. First, we discuss students’ perceptions of fitness tests, since these
are critical for motivated participation in fitness testing and education and for
future participation in physical activity. Second, we briefly discuss ways to
help teachers develop skills, knowledge, and attitudes to productively implement
fitness testing.

Students’ Perceptions of Fitness Tests


One issue in the use of fitness tests in schools is that students often view these
tests in a negative manner. They dislike fitness testing, find it competitive or
boring, and often are not motivated and prepared to participate in the various tests
and this carries over into future physical activity. For example, years later, many
students remember and dislike the one-mile-run test for cardiovascular endurance
(Hopple & Graham, 1995), which is used in both the FITNESSGRAM® (Welk &
Meredith, 2008) and the President’s Challenge (PCPFS, 2007). The inherent
problem of the test is that students have to know how to pace themselves in
order to complete the test (Brock & Fittipaldi-Wert, 2005; Rice & Howell, 2000;
Stewart et al., 2005). Students cannot learn to do this with one practice trial and
need to develop cardiovascular fitness and to understand how to pace themselves
and how their bodies respond to the rigors of the test. Otherwise, students will
not perform well, and the physical pain from testing will turn students off from
physical activity and leave negative memories of fitness testing and physical
activities for years (Hopple & Graham, 1995). The PACER test is recommended
in the FITNESSGRAM® to avoid some of these problems, and the obvious way
to provide preparation for all tests is to have fitness education integrated across
the curricular year with formative self-assessment of fitness level and students
planning and implementing activities to make progress toward goals.
Another reason students may dislike fitness testing is that they may feel
embarrassed by the methods in which the tests are administered. For example,
for body composition, students who are overweight might feel embarrassed if
their skinfolds or weight and height are measured in front of their peers or,
160 SILVERMAN, KEATING, AND PHILLIPS

worse yet, posted for everyone to see. When any of the other tests (e.g., the
sit-and-reach test or muscular strength and endurance tests) are conducted in
public where everyone can see, those who do not do well will dislike everyone
knowing this.
Conducting tests in ways that are sensitive to students’ perceptions are
important if we want them to use the tests. We would strongly argue that teaching
and assessment methods that move from group administration of tests to methods
that permit students to work in pairs or to self-assess will utilize time better,
help students develop self-assessment skills, and be less embarrassing for most
students. As Mosston and Ashworth (2002) have reminded us, however, it is
important to teach students to assume this greater responsibility and to help them
learn these enhanced roles. Having students go from command-style test admin-
istration, where the teacher controls everything, to reciprocal testing methods
without understanding how to give feedback, use task sheets, and help each
other may result in chaos. If the overall physical education curriculum provides
opportunities for students to work together and learn fitness, testing will become
one of many opportunities to use these teaching methods.
Students also often consider fitness activities and fitness testing boring and
competitive (Brock & Fittipaldi-Wert, 2005; Cale & Harris, 2002; Hopple &
Graham, 1995). Students may find fitness activities boring when teachers use
repetitive fitness activities and testing items during fitness instruction (Keating,
2003). A variety of physical activities can be used to develop student health-
related fitness (Corbin et al., 2006) and help students make the connection
between fitness and fun (Brock & Fittipaldi-Wert, 2005; Corbin et al., 2007).
We agree with McKenzie (2003) that enjoyment of fitness and other activities in
physical education class is critical to future participation in the activity, since few
of us keep doing things we do not enjoy. The Physical Best program (sponsored
by the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance;
NASPE, 2005a, 2005b) was developed to provide teachers with a variety of fun
fitness activities to help teach fitness effectively. Fitness activities and its testing
can be enjoyable when implemented with various activities to promote health-
related fitness. If students feel they are experiencing success (Silverman, 2005)
and perceive they are becoming skilled or more competent, they will continue
with an activity.
Competition in physical education class is often seen as a negative influence
on student attitude (Silverman & Subramaniam, 1999; Subramaniam & Silverman,
2002). This is particularly true for students who are relatively lower skilled or
less fit. When they are put into situations where they cannot succeed, they do
not enjoy it—and they see no utility in being motivated. We believe that when
the suggestions we provide above are utilized for testing and fitness education,
competition will be less evident. For example, if a teacher has a gym full of
students working with task and assessment sheets, there is far less likelihood
PEDAGOGICAL PERSPECTIVE ON FITNESS TESTING 161

that testing will be public and competitive. In addition, if the teacher prepares
students as part of overall fitness education, they will be more motivated to try
hard, particularly if the expectation is that there will not be a public examination
of scores and that making progress toward fitness goals is what is important.

Helping Teachers Use Fitness Tests


for Positive Outcomes
Teachers developing the skills and attitudes to effectively implement fitness
tests into a comprehensive fitness education program are the key to the positive
use of fitness tests. This, like virtually everything else, needs to be addressed
during pre-service and in-service education. It requires more than lecturing about
the positive use of fitness tests and must address teacher attitudes (Kulinna,
Silverman, & Keating, 2000) about fitness testing. One of the best ways to
help teachers develop skills and positive attitudes is for experienced in-service
teachers to provide models for effectively using fitness tests.
The issue of teachers’ attitudes toward fitness tests has recently been examined
as an important factor contributing to the use of fitness tests in physical education
(Ferguson et al., 2007; Keating & Silverman, 2004; Kulinna et al., 2000). It
has been found that both pre-service and in-service teachers have only slightly
positive attitudes about fitness tests (Ferguson et al., 2007; Keating, Silverman, &
Kulinna, 2002), and these attitudes may influence whether tests are used. Teacher
educators, measurement specialists, district physical education directors, and
teachers who provide in-service education will need to consider how to influence
attitudes in designing any program to enhance the use of fitness tests.
It has been recommended that infusing health-related fitness and its testing
in physical education teacher education programs may better prepare pre-service
teachers to meet the challenge of decreasing physical inactivity in children
(Bulger, Mohr, Carson, & Wiegand, 2001; Ferguson et al., 2007; Whitehead et
al., 1990). It may require the coordinated effort of a departmental faculty to
influence future attitudes and the use of fitness tests. The national beginning
physical education teacher standards (NASPE, 2004) provide a guide for the
preparation of physical education teacher students’ fitness test use in schools.
This infusion of health-related fitness and testing can occur at many levels.
For example, while teaching an undergraduate measurement class, one of the
authors asked students to critique various fitness tests (e.g., FITNESSGRAM®
and the President’s Challenge) and propose how they could be used effectively
to promote educational objectives and health-related fitness. This often required
students to move past their own experiences (e.g., “I loved doing fitness testing
since I did well!”) and think of a diverse group of students. In another class
on teaching physical education, one of us has a class session where students
read vignettes of experiences of different students (more fit, less fit, overweight),
162 SILVERMAN, KEATING, AND PHILLIPS

and then the class discusses how these students would feel about the various
ways in which fitness testing is conducted. Then, this leads to group work of
ways to make the experience better for all children based on a previous class
that considered a variety of teaching methods. If we want our teacher education
students to construct knowledge in ways that will result in positive outcomes, we
must match our practice to our philosophy and intended goals (Rovegno, 2003).
In-service teachers can also benefit from professional development to help
them acquire or refine skills and attitudes. Many teachers feel inadequately
prepared to implement fitness tests (Whitehead et al., 1990), and Storch,
Grunbaum, Kann, Williams, Kinchen, and Kolbe (2003) reported that high-
school health educators, many of whom also teach physical education, received
only four hours of staff development in physical activity and fitness in two years.
It seems clear that any efforts to do this must go beyond a few hours of inservice
education, must be infused throughout the school year, and should incorporate
real-world examples of excellent use, preferably from successful teachers. If
teachers can have support for testing and working on fitness education, they will
likely be more successful. As Stroot and Whipple (2003, p. 327) noted, “good
mentors make a difference”—whether they serve as formal or informal mentors.
School districts, universities, and professional associations that consider the
long-term nature of professional development have a better chance to influence
professional practice.

SUMMARY

The debates on the merits of youth fitness tests have lasted for many years
and may be partially influenced by the lack of empirical evidence to demon-
strate positive effects on promoting physical activity and health-related fitness.
Suggestions that school-based fitness testing should be abandoned are premature.
If fitness testing is used in ways that are educationally sound there is a high
likelihood that students will develop better attitudes, skills, knowledge, and
physical activity patterns. As we noted at the beginning of this article, fitness
testing can leave a lasting impression. There is a great deal of work involved to
implement fitness tests in positive ways. If we want students to have a positive
impression of physical education and lead a physically active life, the work on
curriculum and teaching will pay great dividends.

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