California proposes scrapping junior high physical fitness tests

Gym and basketball courts at Palms Middle School, Los Angeles. Photo by Amy Ta.

California Governor Gavin Newsom wants to halt physical education testing to help protect kids from body shaming, bullying, and gender identity discrimination.

The FitnessGram test has been in California since 1996, and it measures six components: aerobic capacity (one-mile run), abdominal strength, upper body strength, body mass index, trunk lift, and flexibility.

The test is dolled out each year to students in grades 5-9, and they must pass at least five of the six categories. 

“It's something that can be body shaming, something that can raise issues for kids who may not have the same type of physical fitness ability depending on their family, where they live, what their resources are,” says Jill Tucker, education reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. 

She explains that Gov. Newsom is suggesting a three-year pause to this testing to see if it’s the best way to measure kids’ fitness, and if it’s worth changing. 

What does it mean to be fit? 

Tucker says there’s a lot more research since 1996 in terms of what fitness means and how we measure it. 

It also depends on resources, she explains. Do kids live in places with parks and sports programs? Is it safe enough to play outside? Can kids access nutritious food? Do they have credentialed P.E. teachers?

Many kids don't like P.E., but they do like to play sports and games, or do some kind of physical activity. Why can’t we bridge the two? 

“P.E. has made great strides in recent years, and teachers are introducing a lot more than sort of the old school volleyball, football, basketball or whatever they had. … They're introducing yoga, they're introducing ballroom dancing,” says Tucker. 

She notes that it all depends on resources, and even the physical nature of the school, like whether they have grass. 

“It's very different than P.E. that I took years ago. I think that there's a lot more creativity ... but it isn't equal in terms of how that's being implemented,” she says. 

--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Rosalie Atkinson

Credits

Guest:
Jill Tucker - Education Reporter, San Francisco Chronicle

Host:
Madeleine Brand

Producers:
Sarah Sweeney, Michell Eloy, Alexandra Sif Tryggvadottir, Rosalie Atkinson, Brian Hardzinski, Angie Perrin