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The results of the 2009-10 FITNESSGRAM, a physical fitness test administered to 1.32 million students in California, were released last week and the results were not encouraging, with only a third of students meeting the Healthy Fitness Zone (HFZ).
According to the results, 28 percent of 5th graders, 34 percent of 7th graders and 38 percent of 9th graders achieved passing scores for all six areas of the test. Those areas include aerobic capacity, body composition, abdominal strength, trunk extensor strength, upper body strength and flexibility.
For a 15-year old ninth grade male to obtain a satisfactory score in the HFZ, he would have to run a mile within nine minutes, perform a minimum of 16 push-ups and 24 curl-ups.
Over the last three years, students had shown gradual improvement in the FITNESSGRAM, but this year results were not as promising. The 2009-10 results represented a 0.5 percentage decrease in 5th grade scores, a 0.4 percentage point increase in 7th grade scores and 0.6 percentage point increase in 9th grade scores, when compared to last year’s results.
“The scores reached a plateau this year,” said Linda Hooper, education research and evaluation consultant for the California Department of Education. “We need to emphasize physical education a lot more in schools.”
That has proven to be easier said than done with all of the budget cuts California schools have had to endure in recent years.
“Unfortunately, when the cuts come, the P.E. programs are usually the first to get hit,” Hooper said.
Amy Diaz is in her first year as principal at Laurel Elementary School and agreed that the budget cuts do not help the situation.
“We are in dire times right now,” Diaz said. “It requires us to work together more creatively to find solutions.”
At Laurel Elementary, there were 43 students who were tested in the FITNESSGRAM, with only one student accomplishing an HFZ in all six categories. While not thrilled with the results, Diaz did not think the results were alarming.
“We have to remember these tests are like a snapshot in time,” Diaz said. “It’s not always representative of how every student performs because there are typically some students who aren’t tested.”
Still, Diaz acknowledged that more needed to be done to promote healthier lifestyles for the students.
“We are working together with parents to find and provide opportunities for these kids to incorporate healthy choices into their daily lives,” Diaz said.
One obstacle that faced Laurel Elementary was the lack of a teacher dedicated strictly to physical education. For the fifth graders at the school, their regular teacher was responsible for teaching them physical education along with history, math, science and everything else. With the recent addition of middle school classes to Laurel Elementary, the school was able to hire a physical education teacher, who in turn would help teach not just the students, but also the fifth grade teachers the physical standards. As a result, Diaz expects the school to perform better on the 2010-11 tests.
Other local schools tested in the FITNESSGRAM included Fairfax High School, Hollywood High School and Bernstein High School. Fairfax High performed above the state average with 271 of 651 9th graders (41.6 percent) meeting the HFZ in all six criteria. Bernstein High was at the average with 131 of 350 students testing in the HFZ for all six criteria. Hollywood High performed the poorest of the high schools, with just 91 of 398 freshmen (22.9 percent) meeting all six fitness criteria.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson also took action after seeing the results of the FITNESSGRAM, announcing plans to launch a statewide program to improve the health and fitness of the California’s 6.2 million students. Team California for Healthy Kids will aim to partner with people from the community to work as ambassadors and raise public awareness on the health of local students. The program will assign an ambassador to the school to promote healthy choices and lifestyles.
“Nothing is more important than the health of our children and the test results show that many of them need a helping hand to get fit and stay in shape,” Torlakson said. “The Team California for Healthy Kids campaign will help students adopt the healthy habits that will help them succeed in the classroom today and help them stay healthy over a lifetime.”
The program is currently in the planning stages and final costs of the campaign are not known, but Craig Cheslog, a spokesperson for Torlakson, said the program could cost about $500,000. The money would be raised through private donors. Torlakson named four co-chairs of the campaign including basketball legend Bill Walton and former San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Bubba Paris.
“These are all people he (Torlakson) has met along the way who will help promote the message of healthy living,” Cheslog said.
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