In 2006, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) released a definition of quality physical education, stating: Quality physical education is defined by standards related to five critical elements: (1) who teaches it, (2) how often students receive it, (3) what is taught, (4) how well students should perform, and (5) for what purpose it is taught (Smith & Lounsbery, 2009). National organizations, public health organizations, and of course physical education teachers advocate for and endorse quality physical education programs and recognize its potential to help students achieve national health goals.
Because of spikes in obesity and overall declining physical activity in our nation’s youth, there has been a resurgence towards quality physical education. Public health organizations support it because numerous organs and tissues respond to exercise stimulus; therefore, it is not surprising that exercise profoundly benefits brain function. Even though these are basic scientific findings proven by years of research, public education is quick to forget all the benefits of physical activity.
Parents also believe that physical education is an important component in a balanced school curriculum. In a recent survey given to all 8th grade male students’ parents, with 322 responses, at Pine View Middle School, 96% of parents supported a required physical education class at the middle school level. In addition, 91% of parents opposed eliminating the physical education requirements to meet increased academic standards (see Appendix A for more information about the parent survey).
Despite the support for daily quality physical education, requirements for student participation in physical education continue to decline. The primary reason is that today, more than ever, schools are accountable for producing academic achievement on high-stakes testing and school grades. At Pine View Middle School alone, there is a trend towards removing the physical education requirement to replace it with more seat time.
The Counseling Department, supported by administration, has continually taken struggling students out of physical education classes to be checked into Enhancement”a study skills class for regular education students. Additionally, they continually pull students for P.E.P. (Personal Empowerment Program) and other counseling services. In fact, students get pulled for these additional services 89% of the time during their physical education classes. That information was collected over a one-month time period for all counseling slips that were sent out requesting students during class time.
The biggest attack against the physical education program at Pine View Middle School is the cutting of the Intramural extension during the fourth quarter to focus on testing. In a 2-year study called Project SPARK, academic achievement scores of 759 students were assessed with three conditions: (a) Specialists taught the Sports, Play, and Active Recreation for Kids curriculum; (b) classroom teachers were trained to implement the curriculum; and (c) controls continued their usual programs. It is important to note in the findings of this study that, Despite devoting twice as many minutes per week to physical education as Controls, the health-related physical education program did not interfere with academic achievement (Sallis, et al., 1999). Conversely, it is my belief that devoting more time to core subjects, in addition to what students are already receiving, would not significantly impact academic achievement on testing.
Therefore, the topic of my thesis is how physical fitness can promote school success. The purpose of my study will identify if students who are physically fit absorb and retain new information more effectively than students who are out of shape. Additionally, I will implement and evaluate specific exercises that aid in focus and retention. My research question is if fitness levels correlate to grades, test scores, and overall learning.
There are many factors that contribute to grades, test scores, and overall learning, but this research study is only looking into the correlation of fitness levels to these academic performance areas. The data collected will be limited to 8th and 9th grade boys and girls enrolled in a physical education class at Pine View Middle School, a sample size of about 500 students, for the span of eight weeks, roughly one quarter. The results and findings of this study may not apply to other grade levels.
This study will not focus specifically on the kind of active exercise typical of a physical education class, but on longer-term, overall physical fitness in students. However, physical education is focused on daily physical activity which develops habits of and aides in overall physical fitness.
According to SHAPE America’s”Society of Health and Physical Educators”Guidance Document, fitness education is a subcomponent of the total physical education program, focusing on helping students acquire knowledge and higher-order understanding of health-related physical fitness (the product), as well as habits of physical activity and other healthy lifestyles (the process) that lead to good health-related physical fitness, health and wellness (Instructional Framework for Fitness Education in Physical Education, 2012, p. 1). Although the term fitness is used in many ways, in this research project, the following working definition of fitness as a set of attributes that are either health- or skill-related will be used to guide the development of the research.
In addition, the degree to which students have these attributes can be measured with specific tests. The tests or data points used to determine student’s fitness levels will be a conglomeration of heart rate at rest, target heart rate, timed mile run, pushup test, sit-up test, and Fitnessgram P.A.C.E.R. test. It is important to note that all data will be considered to determine fitness levels of each student. To be thorough and complete, there are tests that will determine fitness in the areas of aerobic condition, muscular strength, and endurance.
Academic success, within the parameters of this study, will be figured by grades, SAGE scores for 8th graders, ASPIRE scores for 9th graders, and an independently administered memorization test.
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