A three sport varsity athlete could fail the trunk lift. A transgender student could be in the healthy fitness zone for pushups in their gender at birth but not their self-identity.
A nonbinary student could feel targeted having to calculate their body mass index. An obese student could lose motivatio after failing the pacer test.
Complaints such as these have prompted Gov. Gavin Newsom to consider stopping fitness tests for two years in order to reformat the evaluation of student health.
Physical Fitness Tests (PFTs) are currently administered to grades five, seven and nine. The California Education Code implemented PFTs in order to provide information that can be used by students, parents and teachers to assess health, plan fitness programs, design curriculum and monitor students changes in fitness levels.
P.E. teacher and head track coach Trevor Boler believes the general idea of fitness testing is good, but it doesn’t always match up to a student’s goals or what their healthy interests should be.
“The individual needs to find motivation and if you don’t pass a certain fitness test that’s okay as long as you’re working on your motivation,” Boler said.
The fitness tests survey multiple components of fitness including muscular strength, aerobic capacity, flexibility and body composition. Part of the issue addressed by Newsom’s proposal to end such tests is concerns with gender identity and body composition.
The common evaluation of body composition is done by taking Body Mass Index; however this screening is delicate for some students as it gives two options – male or female – to judge if their BMI is in a healthy range, or the Healthy Fitness Zone (HFZ).
Counselors at Rio Americano, however, report that they have never received complaints regarding PFTs.
Senior Samantha Klein values the fitness tests, but agrees they could be revised.
“I think that fitness tests are important and a good way to make sure young children stay in shape,” Klein said. “However, I think that they could improve it in some ways so they do not face the gender and obesity problems they are facing.”
Although language used to categorize student’s results is neutral, there is still a degree of comparison that is worrying to some. The tests place students in one of three categories; HFZ, Needs Improvement and Needs Improvement – Health Risk.
Historically, Rio Americano has produced healthier results than that of the state of California, and the San Juan Unified School District.
In the 2013-2014 school year, the state of California tested over 435,000 ninth graders using the PFT. While the majority of students were in the HFZs for aerobic capacity and body composition, 12.7 percent and 16.8 percent in their respective categories were in the Health Risk classification.
Contrarily, at Rio Americano, 11.6 percent of the 429 ninth grade students reflected unhealthy levels of aerobic capacity and 13.1 percent had health risks for body composition.
Furthermore, the amount of students needing improvement in California has increased the past five years, while at Rio the numbers have decreased.
In 2018-2019, the proportion of California students in the Health Risk category increased to 17.6 percent and 23.5 percent for aerobic capacity and body composition, respectively.
At Rio, these values decreased to 10.4 percent for aerobic capacity and 11.5 percent for body composition, widening the gap between the state and school’s results.
In Boler’s P.E. classes, passing these tests are not taken into consideration to a student’s grade, to respect students who may be self conscious about their results.
“There’s certain areas that are important, however an individual’s needs are more important than the categories of fitness testing,” Boler said. “If a student is overweight they should be worried more about health not necessarily passing a test.”
While research has not been conducted as to pinpoint why Rio has overall healthier results, a separation of economic status influences these numbers.
The 429 ninth graders tested at Rio from the 2013-2014 school year increased by almost 20 percent to the 2018-2019 school year, while the amount of economically disadvantaged students at Rio only increased 10.8 percent. This makes it seem as if economic status has an inverse relationship with poor health; as economic status decreases, students displaying health risks increase.
The overall state numbers, however, contradict this trend. In the state of California, the amount of ninth graders tested increased three percent but the amount of economically disadvantaged students decreased one percent from 2014 to 2019, despite a gradual shift away from the HFZ.
Those who oppose Governor Newsom’s proposal to end PFTs point out the rising health issues among California adolescents, claiming the fitness tests provide important insight to where the state stands in teen health.
Junior Gianna Nocetti points out it is better to be aware of student’s health when they are young.
“I think fitness tests are important and they shouldn’t get rid of them,” Nocetti said. “It’s important to encourage healthy lifestyles early on.”
The proposition to halt fitness tests emerged from Newsom’s plan to divide and execute next year’s $222.2 billion budget proposal. The proposal also includes a possibly beneficial emphasis on nutrition in school lunches, led by Newsom’s wife.
Upon approval, Newsom requests that education leaders deliberate with adept fitness, gender identity and disability professionals to recommend how to proceed with PFT so that state schools can advise lawmakers and the State Board of Education by late 2022.