See John Run

He's Too Slow

February 03, 1991|By Ed McDonough | Ed McDonough,Staff writer

With fitness test scores declining nationally, the Board of Education is increasing the amount of structured physical education in the county's elementary and middle schools.

Earl Hersh, the county's supervisor of physical education, said the goal is to increase elementary school physical education instruction from two half-hour periods weekly to three at all schools. Currently, Hersh said, seven of the 16 elementary schools have physical education instruction three times per week.

School officials also hope to have daily physical education classes at middle schools, instead of on alternating days. One of the seven middle schools has daily instruction, another has daily instructionfor some students each quarter, and one offers instruction three times per week.

"The Board of Education is committed to three times aweek for the elementary school kids," Hersh said. "It's going to take approximately five or six more teachers. We're hoping to add some this year (fiscal 1992) and some next year."

Hersh said many of theschools will be staffed with a part-time additional teacher who willsplit time between two schools.

Some of the elementary schools with three classes per week already have noted improvement in test scores, Hersh said, countering a national trend that has shown fitness scores decreasing in recent years. But, he added, charting future improvement across the county may be difficult.

While schools do compile test results from all grades at least once and usually twice per school year, nobody is available at the school offices in Westminster to compile the data.

"We have the system (for compiling the test results) set up," Hersh said, "but we don't have enough time, and we need more people, which we don't have right now."

In fact, few counties in Maryland compile test scores in a central location, said BettyReid, a physical education curriculum specialist with the state Department of Education.

"We don't have much specific data," said Reid, who added that only a handful of counties compile any type of systemwide results.

She said Washington County keeps computerized records by age group and by school, and computes overall averages for the county. Reid said 20 of the 24 jurisdictions in Maryland do have systemwide testing using either the Maryland Superfit test or one of several similar national tests.

Reid said that Maryland encourages schools to test students, and that such testing may be part of the new performance evaluations of state school systems. But she said only a few states require testing, including California, Hawaii, Rhode Islandand Virginia.

The five-part Superfit test includes a sit-and-reach flexibility test, bent-knee sit-ups and chin-ups to assess muscular strength and endurance, a mile walk or run to check cardiorespiratory endurance and a skin-fold test to evaluate body composition.

The testing is not without controversy, said Reid and Linda Vanderhoff of the Maryland Commission of Physical Fitness, which helped develop the test.

Concerns have been raised about the skin-fold test, especially when male teachers were testing middle and high school females. To perform that test, an instructor must pinch fat and measure the thickness of the skin fold with a caliper.

All tests recommend doing one skin-fold test on the upper arm, but a second test is usually required for an accurate reading. Some have advocated taking that measurement on the back, but such testing has raised privacy issues, Reid said, since the gym shirt must be lifted. Instead, she said, many teachers take a second measurement on the thigh of the student, who iswearing gym shorts.

Chin-ups also may be done differently. A chin-up is done with the palms facing the individual, and are considered easier than pull-ups, which are done with the palms away from the student.

Finally, some disagree over just what level of accomplishment is needed to maintain fitness. Some advocate a so-called normative reference, which compares achievement to standard test results. Others prefer criteria reference, which indicate what score is needed to attain a certain level of fitness.

For example, national standards indicate that about half of all 13-year-old boys can walk or run a mile in 8 minutes and 4 seconds, meaning a student who completed a milein that time would be in the 50th percentile.

But that doesn't indicate whether a 13-year-old boy's ability to run a mile in 8:04 shows fitness.

However, Hersh said he is not as concerned about percentile scores -- which may be impossible for some to attain because of physical differences -- as he is in fitness improvement for all students.

"I'm not hung up on the percentile thing," Hersh said. "I don't think that's the purpose of the test. The most important thing is the motivational factor."

Reid noted that testing is important, but following up on the testing is even more vital.

"One of the problems is, if you overemphasize testing and don't know what to do with it, you don't help the child," Reid said. "We're not just accrediting the superior athlete."

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