Test Scores and Physical Education: a Priority Run Amok

The “No Child Left Behind” Act first implemented in 2002 has created a testing frenzy in many of our schools.  It has resulted in the elimination of art and music, so teachers have more time to prepare for tests.  But it has also impacted kids in other ways.  Now, more than ever, as schools across the country cut their budgets, the first place they start is with physical education classes.


A real fear factor exists as teachers are focused more so than in years past on getting their students to achieve the grades on standardized tests that are tied to the school’s continued funding.


Active kids are smarter


When you eliminate PE classes you put kids in a place where they don’t excel in the classroom.  Studies show this over and over again.  Research from the California Department of Education reveals that children who are more fit achieve twice the scores on academic tests as their unfit peers. A panel of researchers who performed a review of more than 850 studies on the effects of physical activity on school-age kids backs those findings.  Simply put, they determined that just 30 to 45 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise 3 to 5 days a week improved a child’s memory, concentration, mood, classroom behavior and overall academic performance.


Moreover, in August of 2013, a University of California, San Diego study of 100 schools found that 45% of them had 30 minutes of activity a day and 15% had less than 15 minutes a day. Additionally, those schools with a higher socioeconomic status (SES) were found to have better opportunities to provide the required minutes.  The study also determined that schools where children excelled in class had at least four constants:


(1) A PE teacher

(2) 100 minutes of Physical Education a week

(3)  A supervised recess

(4) An active recess educator


The more opportunities to have kids exercise and be active certainly can make a difference in their health and academic achievement.  That’s why the state’s new Education Code 51210 is so important.  It mandates that schools provide 200 minutes every 10 school days for grades 1-6 not including recess or before and after school programs.


Even with these minimal physical activity requirements now mandated in California, more than half of all schools are failing.  By last count, 51% do not comply with Code 51210 and 15% of them have zero PE at all – and many school districts don’t seem to care because of the priority given to the testing scores tied to funding and ultimately jobs.


Ode to the past


The sad irony is that if schools would go back to the old days when PE was a priority and recess was really a recess period where kids had a chance to exercise regularly with supervision, more students would show improvement in the classroom and on tests.


Parents know this. Most teachers know this but little seems destined to change. With shrinking school budgets, the sad truth is PE is no longer a big priority for school districts – and money is not readily available for hiring educators to teach physical education and anatomy.  At least that’s what many school districts are saying.


But the truth is that most schools can afford it and can bring in standardized physical education curriculum’s so kids are healthier and achieve greater results in the classroom. YTTC brings in programs for $200 a kid for the year that includes the materials to learn and a qualified educator to teach.  When school districts say there’s not enough time either for physical education programs to be implemented during a school day it sounds disingenuous. Because, with just 20 minutes in a day, a program can be implemented if schools would just eliminate a homeroom class.


Privately, strides are being made, but more support is needed and schools must change their mentality and approach. If parents become more vocal, teachers and principals more active and PTA’s more supportive, school districts will be forced to do something.  As it is, the guidelines set forth in California Education Code 51210 are not being followed as many had hoped.


In the meantime, it’s the kids who are affected the most as their health has suffered and their development has regressed not only physically but academically too.