Should I Fitness Test in PE?

Fitness testing has traditionally been commonplace within schools and physical education curriculums, however in their research published in 2006, Cale & Harris found:

In a previous blog post, Making Sense of Physical Literacy we explored how physical literacy serves as the foundation of physical education. It should be noted that physical literacy:

  • is an inclusive concept accessible to all
  • represents a unique journey for each individual
  • can be cultivated and enjoyed through a range of experiences in different environments and contexts
  • needs to be valued and nurtured throughout life
  • contributes to the development of the whole person.

If we want students to develop their physical literacy across their lifespan, given the evidence above it would suggest that traditional fitness testing has little place in physical education curriculums. The video below is an excerpt from a presentation by respected physical education professor Dr Bob Pangrazi, Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University. In it he shares his thought about the place fitness testing has in physical education classes.

Dr Pangrazi emphasizes the process of learning about fitness over the product (test results). Dr Pangrazi also gave a fantastic keynote speech at the 2014 National PE Institute in Asheville, where he spoke in more detail and presented research around the inefficacy of fitness testing on children. He shares that for a variety of reasons, fitness testing can be valuable but also challenging. Factors beyond student effort affect fitness test scores, including genetics, growth timing, environmental conditions, opportunities for physical activity involvement and the student’s starting point (i.e., his or her health and fitness history).

As I mentioned in the previous lesson, every one of us has a unique situation and in some parts of the worl,d fitness testing is mandated. In the United States, SHAPE America has a position statement which states that “Fitness testing is a valuable part of fitness education when integrated appropriately into a comprehensive physical education curriculum, and students’ fitness scores should not be used to grade students or to evaluate physical education teachers.” If you are in a situation where fitness testing is mandated I would encourage you to explore ways to place emphasis on the process of learning about fitness rather than the product of test scores. Human Kinetics also shares recommendations and practical ideas to help you make a decision about the use of fitness testing in schools in their blog post “Should We Be Using Fitness Testing in Schools?

Ultimately we want students to develop their physical literacy and feel confident and motivated to live a healthy active lifestyle. I ask that you consider if fitness testing is the best method to achieve that goal. Make no mistake learning about and providing experiences for students to learn about physical fitness is important. I believe that meaningful fitness education:

  • Focuses on the process rather than the product
  • Uses goal setting as key component
  • Allows students to self test and reflect on their own progress
  • Represents a unique experience for every student
  • Enables students to develop strategies and tools for monitoring physical improvement
  • Keeps student fitness scores and results private
  • Does not use fitness scores as a basis for grading

This particular blog post is not aimed to provide you with any prescriptive tools for fitness assessments but rather create some space for critical thinking around fitness testing in physical education. Feel free to share your thoughts on fitness testing by commenting below.

Nathan Horne is a physical educator currently based in British Columbia, Canada and the founder of iPhys-Ed.com Be sure to never miss out on any of iPhys-Ed.com’s future posts by connecting with us via TwitterFacebookYoutube or Instagram. Nathan can be contacted on Twitter @PENathan.

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  1. We need to teach students about how to get in shape, stay in shape, and how the body works to stay in shape. If we can construct a solid foundation of fitness/nutrition at an early age the more success the individual will have later on. Testing realy doesn’t address any of this, in fact, it discourages it!

  2. Totally agree with you Nathan. When I came to my current school, fitness testing was carried out twice a year and part of the curriculum. But it was stand alone and previously used as a marker when creating reports and grades. I believed that with MYP, the way it was used was not compatible. We took it out of our curriculum completely.

    We still have a fitness unit but this is based on the process of creating fitness plans for individuals, groups or athletes and facilitated through a conceptual lens whilst put into the context of real life situations. There is no need for testing just for the purpose of testing. The other problem is the focus on scoring and results. We have this problem in Korea and it’s something which needs to be moved away from.

  3. There may still be a place for fitness tests but not in elementary school. After listening to Bob’s speech, why am I wasting precious classroom time. I would love to spend more time teaching kids about health and nutrition. Ironically my teaching partner and I were having this discussion briefly this morning, when this email popped up in my inbox. I had seen Bob’s youtube video before and wanted to explore the idea of reworking how we teach fitness to our elementary students. Thanks Nathan for bringing this topic up for discussion.

  4. Thank you Nathan! Such an important issue. If there could be ONE thing done to move the profession forward it would be to change perceptions about the importance of fitness testing in PE.