Fitness testing is not usually met with joy in the wellness classes at Holliston High School. So where did fitness testing originate if there is no state mandate for it?
“What happened is that the administration and the state wanted to get data in conjunction with the health risk survey…we ended up with the fitnessgram,” said Mr. Glenn D’Avanzo, one of the wellness teachers at Holliston High School.
Originally, according to Mr. D’Avanzo, the school had a program designed to use competition between the different wellness classes of each grade to improve the pre and post test results of each student.
This personalized focus on progress was put aside when the school decided to participate in the voluntary Presidential Youth Fitness Program (PYFP), which uses standardized healthy fitness zones to determine the health of each student. This and other programs provide aid and/or financial incentives to help schools across the country develop strong physical education curriculums.
“The problem is when we look at our biggest grants…one of the big things they want to see is data,” said wellness teacher Ms. Beth Smith. “But in my 25 years we’ve probably used the data twice to apply for a grant.”
Whether Holliston’s decision to continue testing its students is beneficial to either students or faculty is up for debate.
The fitness test is supposed to measure progress within a small window of time. Faculty members doubt the validity of this practice due to a number of factors.
“In eight weeks you’re supposed to see remarkable difference and that’s just not how fitness works…time is really important,” said Ms. Smith. “I think we try to put a lot in a very small package.”
“Until you can dispose a fitness test that displays quantifiable and measureable data…with consistency in standards to the movements and applications to assessing them by both proctor and student…the data is bogus,” said Mr. D’Avanzo.
Students have also voiced concerns that the tests don’t accurately measure overall health by creating large focus on smaller elements of fitness.
“I think it’s very inaccurate because I was labeled to be in the unhealthy fitness zone for push-ups. I workout every day, so I wouldn’t expect to be in an unhealthy zone for any category. It doesn’t seem like a good measure of health,” said senior Alexis Mejia.
For Mejia, a finely tuned athlete who has a vigorous training schedule that combines running and lifting six days a week, this conjecture doesn’t seem far off.
Some student athletes feel that other aspects of wellness would be more beneficial to them in understanding fitness. According to Ms. Smith, Holliston has roughly 50-75% of its students participating in sports. Catering to their specific needs would be warranted.
“I want a class that teaches before and after type things – for example, how to stretch before and after a workout,” said senior Megan Burke, a field-hockey player.
Block scheduling has also limited the amount of material that can be taught in the general wellness classes of ninth and tenth grade and the number of classes juniors and seniors can participate in. The focus on fitness testing could be at the sacrifice of other important information.
“I don’t really learn anything in my classes. In gym we just play games, we don’t learn about the health aspect. I learn more in track,” said Mejia.
This critique of the curriculum is echoed by some faculty.
“Playing games is not preparing us for the future of health in our society,” said Mr. D’Avanzo. “I think nutrition and fitness are the weakness of our society and should be required of all 11th and 12th graders in a wellness program.”
Within the parameters of fitness testing, there is less room for innovation in the wellness program. Wellness classes are essential to the education of a student dedicated to lifelong health, especially in the midst of the American obesity epidemic.
According to the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, “One out of six children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 are obese and one out of three are overweight or obese.”
Minimizing the curriculum of wellness classes to focus on elements of a fitness test reduces the amount of independence wellness teachers have to design classes that emphasize elements of fitness especially pertinent to the school they are teaching in.
For those who do not participate in sports or regular exercise, the principles learned in wellness classes are even more crucial to building a lifelong dedication to personal health and wellbeing.
Whether the use fitness testing as the center of a curriculum accomplishes this goal is questionable. Measuring wellbeing in a standardized test that uses comparison to determine overall health seems contradictory to the holistic philosophy of the curriculum. In any case, the most important thing is that kids walk away emboldened by the lessons they’ve learned and motivated to maintain their health.
“Our intention is to teach kids to set goals and understand action breeds results,” said Mr. D’Avanzo. Wellness is not confined to the classroom or the gym. It is a mindset for life.