Most chil­dren failed state’s fit­ness test, data show

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Ericka Mel­lon

More than two-thirds of Texas school­child­ren flunked the state’s phys­i­cal fit­ness test this year, a trou­bling trend that doc­tors worry could get worse with the Leg­is­la­ture loos­en­ing the re­quire­ments for high school gym class.

The bright spot among the newly re­leased state data in­volves ele­men­tary and mid­dle school stu­dents, who met the healthy bench­marks at slightly higher rates than they did two years ago when Texas be­came the first state to man­date an­nual fit­ness test­ing.

Third-grade girls con­tin­ued to per­form the best, with 37 per­cent pass­ing all six tests, which in­volve run­ning, strength and flex­i­bil­ity ex­er­cises and a body fat mea­sure. High school se­niors did the worst, with about 8 per­cent of each gen­der meet­ing the healthy stan­dard.

“It’s very con­cern­ing and a very dra­matic re­sult,” said Dr. Sarah Bar­low, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Child­hood Obe­sity at Texas Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal. “Schools have a lot of pres­sure now, so there’s not the quan­tity of phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion that is rec­om­mended by health or­ga­ni­za­tions.”

The U.S. Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices rec­om­mends that chil­dren get at least 60 min­utes of phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity — most of it aer­o­bic ex­er­cise — ev­ery day.

Texas law says ele­men­tary stu­dents must get at least 30 min­utes of phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity a day — or 150 min­utes a week — though an ex­cep­tion al­lows dis­tricts to slash 15 min­utes off the weekly man­date. Mid­dle school stu­dents must get a half-hour of daily phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity for four of their six semesters.

For high school stu­dents, the Leg­is­la­ture last year re­duced the num­ber of phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion cred­its needed for grad­u­a­tion from three semesters to two start­ing with the up­com- ing school year.

State Sen. Jane Nel­son, who spon­sored the 2007 bill re­quir­ing an­nual fit­ness test­ing, said she was en­cour­aged by the im­prove­ment among younger stu­dents but concerned over­all.

“The high school re­sults are alarm­ing and show why this is a bad time to be cut­ting P.E. re­quire­ments,” said Nel­son, R-Flower Mound.

The high school pass­ing rates have re­mained rel­a­tively flat or dipped in the past two years, though ed­u­ca­tors cau­tion that many of the stu­dents in the higher grades don’t take the test and, if they do, they don’t take it se­ri­ously.

All stu­dents are sup­posed to par­tic­i­pate, but many high school stu­dents are ex­empt from gym classes — where the test­ing typ­i­cally takes place — be­cause they are in ath­let­ics, cheer­lead­ing or band.

Julie Har­ris-Lawrence, a deputy as­so­ci­ate com­mis­sioner at the Texas Ed­u­ca­tion Agency, which over­sees the test­ing, said state of­fi­cials are work­ing to mo­ti­vate the older stu­dents next year in part by pro­mot­ing the tests via so­cial me­dia and ask­ing the teens to make their own fit­ness videos.

“We need to get more and bet­ter data and have more buy-in from the high school stu­dents,” she said.

A state anal­y­sis last year found that schools with bet­ter fit­ness re­sults also had higher aca­demic per­for­mance and fewer dis­ci­pline prob­lems.

The so-called Fit­ness­gram test de­vel­oped by the Dal­las­based Cooper In­sti­tute asks stu­dents to run, do sit-ups and push-ups or pull-ups, reach their toes from a seated po­si­tion, and do trunk lifts, which as­sess back strength.

It also mea­sures body com­po­si­tion through a skin-fold test or us­ing the body mass in­dex, which looks at healthy lev­els of height and weight. The pass­ing stan­dard varies by gen­der and grade level.

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