What Every PE Teacher Should Consider BEFORE Fitness Testing

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Is it realistic to expect all students to reach specified fitness standards?
What factors control fitness performance, and how much control do children have over their fitness accomplishments?

Factors That Contribute to Fitness Testing

Heredity directly impacts all aspects of health-related fitness. Various factors, such as environment, nutrition, heredity, and maturation, affect fitness performance as reflected in physical fitness test scores. In fact, these factors may have more to do with youth fitness scores than activity level.

Lifestyle and environmental factors can also make a difference. For example, nutrition is a lifestyle factor that can influence test scores, and environmental conditions (heat, humidity, and pollution) strongly modify test performances. Fitness performance is only partially determined by activity and training.

How Do Students Respond to Training?

Beyond heredity lies another factor that predisposes some students to high (or low) performance. Recent research has shown that differences in “trainability” are strongly influenced by genetic predisposition. Trainability explains why some individuals benefit from training (regular physical activity) more than others do. Suppose two students who are equal in ability perform the same workload throughout a semester. Student A improves dramatically, but student B does not. One can imply that student A has inherited a body that responds to training. Student A improves and scores well on the fitness test and concludes, “My hard work pays off.” Student B scores poorly and concludes, “Training doesn’t improve my fitness, so why bother?” Trainability and genetic endowment differences limit or enhance performance, making it important to have different expectations for students.

Dr. Robert Pangrazi shares his opinion on generic fitness testing in PE. He recommends self-testing as a way to motivate students. 

A recent study showed that about 20% of adults fail to improve aerobic capacity with intense endurance training and 30% do not enhance their insulin sensitivity. These authors concluded that life-style interventions must be tailored to each individual’s genotype. It shows the importance of explaining to students why some will perform well with little effort, whereas others, no matter how hard they try, will never perform at a high level. Many physical traits illustrate genetic differences, such as speed, jumping ability, strength, and physical size in individuals. Understand that a few students will work hard to improve their fitness performance because they respond well to training. However the goal for teachers is to help students who have less genetic ability learn how to play, be active, and enjoy their bodies without worrying about how they compare to others.

Fitness Testing Can Send the Wrong Message

Students want to succeed. They try to behave in ways that please the teacher and impress their friends. When the teacher says fitness testing scores can be improved by working hard each day, most students are believers. Students who have been exercising regularly expect to do well on the fitness testing —and teachers expect the same. But if their scores are lower than expected, students can be disappointed. They are discouraged if the teacher concludes that their low fitness scores reflect inactivity and lack of exercise. Such conclusions as, “You weren’t as fit as some of your peers, therefore you must not have worked hard enough” can be destructive. Conversely, it can be incorrect to assume that students who score high on fitness tests are active. Students who are genetically gifted may be inactive, yet still perform well on fitness testing. If teachers do not teach otherwise, these students incorrectly develop the belief that they can be fit and healthy without being active.

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