Results of the 2009 Physical Fitness Test released Monday by the state Department of Public Education show Berkeley public schools trailing their peers in six fitness categories.
Thirty-four percent of Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) fifth-graders met the criteria for all six areas of the test compared with 29 percent statewide. However, only 31 percent of seventh-graders met the same criteria compared with 34 percent throughout California.
Just 13.8 percent of ninth-graders met the criteria compared with 37.9 percent statewide.
District Superintendent Bill Huyett said he was surprised to see low participation rates for ninth-graders in the BUSD. Just 305 students had taken the test in ninth grade although there are approximately 800 ninth-graders in the district.
“An awful lot of students don’t take the test,” Huyett said. “They might go for other physical activities such as dance or theater.”
Statewide, more than 1.38 million students in the fifth, seventh, and ninth grades took the test during the 2008-09 school year.
“The test is an important indicator for students’ readiness,” Huyett said. According to a statement from the state education department, the goal of the test “is to facilitate learning about physical activity and physical fitness concepts in order to increase the likelihood students will adopt lifetime patterns of physical activity.”
Carrie Strong-Thompson of the state Department of Public Education told the Planet that fifth-, seventh- and ninth-graders were required by law to take the test. The window for the test is between Feb. 1 and May 31, although districts may decide when to administer it.
“Our goal would be that 100 percent of the students meet the fitness criteria,” she said. “We would like all schools to take the test seriously.”
Strong-Thompson said the numbers for students meeting all six physical fitness criteria were gradually improving. She added that the test does not provide a pass-or-fail grade to students; instead each student has to meet minimum criteria that take into account age, gender and other factors.
The latest test results represent a 0.6 percentage point increase in fifth-grade students’ scores, a 1.2 percentage point increase in seventh-grade students’ scores, and a 2.3 percentage point gain in ninth-grade students’ scores compared with last year’s results
“I am pleased that our students continue to make strides toward becoming physically fit,” state Superintendent of Education Jack O’Connell said. “The percentage of students who are in the healthy fitness zone is increasing. However, as a state we must continue to improve. National statistics show that today’s children are twice as likely to be overweight as their counterparts of the 1980s. Teenagers today are three times as likely to be overweight as those in the 1980s. Our students must take responsibility for their fitness, health and overall well-being so they can compete on the playing field, in the classroom and on the global stage.”
Strong-Thompson said that each grade is required to take P.E. for a certain amount of time every day.
California public schools are required to report results of physical fitness testing annually in their school accountability report cards.
“We take P.E. very seriously,” said BUSD spokesperson Mark Coplan. “The issue is that the amount of instructional minutes we get every day is very limited. Another big issue is space. We have very limited open space for P.E. in our schools. We don’t have adequate square footage.”
The 2009 physical fitness results for schools, school districts, counties, and the state are available on the California Department of Education website: www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/pf/pftresults.asp.