The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


How Fitness Testing Can Make a Positive Impact on Any Quality PE Program

Written by
Posted in

Tuesday, Sep 26, 2017

We are currently living in a world of accountability testing in our K-12 schools.  This has created an environment where many teachers, administrators, and even parents fret and plan around the results all year long. We even have pep rallies.  Generally, these tests are in math, reading, writing, science and social studies and if you ask any student in any school in any state, they are well aware of these tests.  It drives our instruction.

In the world of health and physical education (PE), many schools are using FitnessGram in their physical education classes as the test.  Some because it’s required by State law and some because they want to assess their students’ health-related fitness.  A great deal of time is utilized for giving the test but different from the other tests, we often don’t create a plan or concern ourselves with the results.

So, we just test.  And then test again.  Many, many physical educators complain about the time it takes, question the value of the tests and in the end, often don’t even share the results with their students.  Perhaps worse, the students are not given the information as to the importance of the results and how they personally can improve upon them.  In most instances, the results are not shared with administrators or parents either.

Using the results is the key part of the entire process. Why? Because data drives decisions!

I would like to share some ideas as to how we can all work to use these results to improve our programs and ultimately our students’ health.  These strategies can be used by an elementary or secondary school PE teacher at their own campus, they can be used by a district PE administrator for their entire district, and even states can use this data to improve programs. 

This starts with a plan as to when the students are assessed and how often.  It’s generally recommended that the entire battery of tests is given at least once a year.  The students should be taught the protocols of course, but just as important, students should learn what the test assesses and why it is essential to do well.  They need to understand key biological differences that occur as boys and girls mature, and how health-related fitness impacts each individual uniquely. And finally, they need to know what they can personally do to improve their scores.  And then, they can, as they work to improve their health, assess themselves.

In other words, they need to own their own data, and in turn, they need to learn how to own their own health.

Parents also need to know and understand the results.  It’s important for parents to recognize that these assessments are criterion-based and that if 10 push-ups put their child in the healthy fitness zone, then for health purposes that is all they need.  Parents, and sometimes students, are really competitive and often don’t realize that this assessment is not like the SAT and ACT test.  In FitnessGram testing, all can be successful.

Fitness is best taught as a regular part of a PE class.  It can be in the warm-up part of the lesson cycle or in an activity that is also teaching other skills.  And at the same time, students always need to be aware of how the activity is directly impacting their fitness.  Any education at any grade in PE should be focused towards students having the knowledge and skills to take care of their own health and fitness.

As you and your students work together to discover where they are in terms of their health, creating plans to address areas where the results are not as desirable is critical to success.  And that, actually, is where the real work begins. Developing the action steps to address the results is a key part of the program.  Even with teachers who do instruct on the rationale of the assessment, if we do not reinforce the primary components of health-related fitness that FitnessGram assess again until the next year then the potential for improvement is lost. 

With dwindling budgets and limited resources, it may be a concern that your program does not have sufficient equipment to address the needs of the students.  Due to the fact that many, many of the skills addressed in the national PE standards as well as most state standards, if properly developed, will positively impact students’ health and fitness, consider using your fitness data to support your request for equipment.  At the middle school level, more fitness equipment like medicine balls, resistance bands, and hand weights might be needed.  Perhaps at the elementary level, more equipment that would support running games to increase aerobic capacity would be useful.  If many of your students’ results indicate an unhealthy weight, you might consider equipment and games that address proper nutrition. Once again, data drives decisions. Use your FitnessGram data to make a case for increased resources to help address the specific needs of your students. If you don’t ask, the answer is almost always no. If you present your case and back it up with data, you have the makings of a compelling argument.

At an individual campus teachers can print a report of the overall student results and pinpoint for their administrator the areas that need the most work.  With this would be a request for equipment to directly impact the results.  At the same time, have a discussion with your principal about the research on the positive relationship between success in fitness and academic performance or a share a research paper from a reputable source such as the CDC on this topic.

Most administrators are aware of this relationship but it never hurts to have current research. And truthfully, why should we assess students if we don’t plan to address their weaknesses?  Assessment is just the start. After all, you wouldn’t assess a student in math and then not teach them how to add and subtract.

I am the Director of Health and PE for a large, urban school district of over 87,000 students.  We test our students annually and although we strongly encourage each of our teachers to do just what was discussed, I do much of the same at the district level.   From this lens, I look more at curriculum and lesson design.  Is our curriculum supporting fitness education?  Are we allowing sufficient time for our students to participate with an elevated heart rate?  Do our health classes support their nutrition education?  Do we even have health instruction? I have used this information to champion for a stronger recess policy, an amended Local Wellness Policy, and a PE curriculum specialist who can work every day with our teachers to improve their instruction.

The results of these fitness assessments can improve all aspects of your program. 
It can mean additional equipment, more staffing and more time in PE and recess.  It can lead to open gyms in secondary schools and more classroom activity breaks.  However, this can only happen if you analyze the results, design a plan for improvement, and sell it.  In today’s education landscape, if you don’t fight for your program, someone else will fight for theirs, and as physical educators, we know just how vital physical education, health and literacy are for students.

Fitness testing in isolation is of no real value.  Fitness testing done with the students’ welfare in mind and a plan for improvement is extremely valuable.  We owe our children the knowledge of the importance of health and the tools to improve their health.  That can and should be a regular part of your physical education program. 

It may take time but our children are worth it.


Georgi Roberts is the Director of Health and PE at Fort Worth ISD and member of The Cooper Institute’s FitnessGram Scientific Advisory Board. Roberts, a former elementary PE teacher, has been a longstanding leader and advocate for physical education, student health and teacher support. In 2008, Roberts received the TAHPERD K-12 Administrator of the Year Award followed by NASPE’s Channing Mann K-12 Administrator of the Year Award in 2010.  In 2014, she received SHAPE America’s “Joy of Effort” award; this is the one she is most proud of! Today, Robert’s primary focus is on building strong, standards-based programming that includes professional development for teachers and meaningful assessment. During her tenure in Fort Worth, Roberts has been highly successful in obtaining large federal and local grants to provide much needed resources and training support for teachers.