Ala revamping school fitness measures


DOTHAN, Ala. (AP) — Alabama has changed how it evaluates public school students' physical fitness, hoping that the new Alabama Physical Fitness Assessment will allow P.E. teachers and students to better focus on ways to improve health and fitness.

The new fitness assessment, which replaces the old President's Challenge Fitness Test, is narrower than past standards, measuring four areas of physical fitness: aerobic cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength and endurance, abdominal strength and endurance and flexibility.

Students will be evaluated in all four areas and classified into three zones for each area: needs improvement, healthy fitness and high fitness.

Under the new standards, students will receive two assessments per year and parents and students will be informed of results. Data collection about fitness will be improved as physical education teachers will have to enter the information into the state's iNow data management system.

At Selma Street Elementary School on Tuesday, students in Percell Gregory and Nicole Walker's P.E. class went through a traditional drill of exercises, doing jumping jacks, stretches and other physical activities.

At Selma, students get 45 minutes of P.E. each day, more than the 30 minutes the state requires.

"For some of them, this class is the only exercise they get," Gregory said. "When they get home they just sit down in front of that TV."

Walker said she believes the new standards are a little easier than the old ones, as there are fewer categories where children are evaluated. Walker said it's also likely that more students will pass the assessments, as they are more individualized instead of being graded against their peers' performance statewide.

Walker said the narrower focus would allow P.E. instructors to focus more intensely in those areas and spend more time getting weaker performing students up to speed.

Walker said the state is also encouraging more parental involvement in physical fitness, as under the new system information about their children's P.E. performance will be more accessible to them.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, childhood obesity has tripled in the last three decades. About a third of children and adolescents in the U.S. are obese.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that the childhood obesity rate in Alabama is 36.1.

Inactivity appears to shoulder the bulk of the blame for the state's childhood obesity problems. The state ranks in the bottom 10 percent when activity profiles of Alabama youth are compared to those of other states, according to the Alabama Department of education.

"Kids don't play outside in the yard like they used to," Walker said. "They don't come up with their own games like we did."


Information from: The Dothan Eagle,

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