Are students *supposed* to fail physical fitness tests?


The first answer is yes, a certain subset of students will always fail physical fitness tests because they are simply not athletic enough to pass. Few people would deny that some people are just naturally gifted at music and others are not. Someone who is as musically untalented as can be can learn the notes on the staff and maybe learn to play nursery rhymes like Hot Cross Buns or Mary Had a Little Lamb with one hand. Beyond that, we accept that music just “isn’t their thing.” We certainly won’t enroll him upon penalty of death (or unemployment) if he doesn’t pass university level music courses, prove membership in a music group, and obtain virtuoso status by the end of 30 days.

For some reason, though, this basic concept is lost when it comes to athletics. Instead, we choose to believe that everyone can be in top physical shape and a near-natural athlete if  only they weren’t so lazy. But that’s not true. I will once again credit Sandy at JFS for the idea that components of physical fitness is primarily hereditary. (See MIA-All Sides  of “Healthy” Physical Activity and Paradoxes Compel Us to Think Part I). I knew, of course, that athletics came naturally to some people and not others, but I wasn’t aware of just how crucial heredity is to fitness. No matter how much we demean and run physically unfit kids into the ground, they will never be physically fit enough for those standards. They weren’t *meant* to be athletes.

Aside from holding these children to a standard that’s impossible for them to achieve, physical fitness testing serves to stigmatize them in the eyes of their peers. Have you ever been the last person to finish a mile run? Consistently? Long after everyone else has finished, even though everyone with half a brain knows that a lot of them cheated? Point made.

That’s not the point of this post, though. I am now thoroughly convinced that, nowadays,  physical fitness tests are designed so that *most* children, including obviously athletic children, will fail them.

I’ll never forget physical fitness testing during my senior year of high school when the government changed the rules for the 1-minute curl-up challenge. Before, someone would hold your feet down and when the teacher yelled “Go!” You did as many sit-ups as you could in one minute. If you did an improper sit-up, like when you lean to the side to prop yourself up or don’t sit up all the way to your knees, the person holding your feet would skip it. At the end, the number of proper curl-ups you did in that minute would be recorded. I am not athletic by any stretch of the imagination, but I usually scored in the 20s and 30s on that test.

During the 2007-2008 school year, something changed. Everything else was the same, but one thing changed that was both crucial and so shameless that I don’t know why more people aren’t coming to the conclusion that I did.

You were no longer *allowed* to do as many sit-ups as you could in one minute.

Excuse me?

That’s right. There was now a three-strikes rule. If you did up to three improper curl-ups at any time during the test, you were forced to drop out.

In other words, a varsity athlete that can do 40 curl-ups in one minute, but who does three bad curl-ups at the beginning because he was just getting started, is now only capable of five curl-ups a minute.

That’s exactly what they do, too. They won’t say, “This person is normally capable of 40 sit-ups but he struck out of our stupid game.” They will say that this person, literally, can only do five curl-ups in a minute.

Millions of schoolchildren have taken that test, and most have probably struck out.

How do you think obesity scaremongers will react to that? And how many people know, or will think to ask about, what really happened in that gymnasium?

Advertisements

7 comments

  1. vesta44 · July 18, 2010

    That’s for schools that even have phys ed anymore. A lot of schools have had to cut that class because there just isn’t the money in the budget for it. I graduated in 1972, and from 7th grade on, we had phys ed every day. It was a class just like math or science or English. We had to take the President’s Physical Fitness Test every year, and it was the pits for a lot of kids. I usually passed it (because we didn’t have to run a mile, if I’d had to run a mile, well, that would have brought my score down) even though I was considered fat (5′ 6″, size 14 in 7th grade up to 5′ 8″ and size 18 my senior year). But I was fit from all the bike-riding, roller-skating, swimming, and walking I did.
    My grandkids have to pass those tests, which I think is really unfair, because their schools don’t have phys ed classes, and where some of them live, it’s not safe for them to be able to do all the things I did as a kid (times have certainly changed in the last 40 – 45 years, safety-wise for kids).

  2. joannadeadwinter · July 24, 2010

    “I graduated in 1972, and from 7th grade on, we had phys ed every day.”

    I’m all for health classes and giving kids opportunities to move around during the school day and explore activities they like. As it is now, I don’t think phys ed classes have much use other than to waste time that could be spent on academics and humiliate those who are less athletically inclined.
    We had to take the President’s Physical Fitness Test every year, and it was the pits for a lot of kids. I usually passed it (because we didn’t have to run a mile, if I’d had to run a mile, well, that would have brought my score down) even though I was considered fat (5′ 6″, size 14 in 7th grade up to 5′ 8″ and size 18 my senior year). But I was fit from all the bike-riding, roller-skating, swimming, and walking I did.”

    And, most importantly of all, the athletic genes you inherited and not being too disabled to do those things.:)

    “My grandkids have to pass those tests, which I think is really unfair, because their schools don’t have phys ed classes, and where some of them live, it’s not safe for them to be able to do all the things I did as a kid (times have certainly changed in the last 40 – 45 years, safety-wise for kids).”

    My problem isn’t that these tests are offered in the absence of phys ed. My problem is that they are offered *at all.* It’s not academic, which is what we send children to school for and it’s none of their damn business. Furthermore, physical fitness testing is useless. Fitness does have lifestyle components, but it is mostly genetic and no matter what you do, many children will never meet the standards because they aren’t *meant* to. Comparing my fitness levels to those of other children is about as helpful as comparing my eye color. All PFT does is humiliate those who are less fit. It’s no different from comparing body shape or BMI. And this latest redefinition of physical fitness is a cheap trick to inflate the number of “unfit” kids to sustain a moral panic.

    Why does our culture insist that we all be physically fit anyway? Some of us hate sports and have lives outside of the gym and just plain don’t give a damn. I miss living my slothful, unathletic, politically incorrect life in peace.

  3. Patsy Nevins · November 30, 2012

    Amen, Jo. And this belief that everyone is, or can be, or should be an athlete, is particularly painful & difficult for those of us who have disabilities. I was humiliated, insulted, & pushed to do things of which I was physically incapable in 7th & 8th grade by a young female gym teacher who had herself confused with a Marine drill sergeant & who obviously had no understanding of the term ‘cerebral palsy.’ She was one of those arrogant natural athletes who lived for sports & believed that, if she could do it, anyone could, & that I just wasn’t TRYING hard enough to vault a pommel horse or climb a rope or do a proper somersault. I sometimes wonder if all my years of compulsive exercise have been, to some extent, an attempt to prove my worth to an ignorant, narrow-minded, somewhat sadistic 22-year-old woman. And, indeed, as you point out, all my years of intense exercise, of often pushing myself to pain & injury, have never made me as fit as some people are just by natural endowment. Believe me, it is simply NOT true that anyone can be an athlete if he/she really wants to & works at it hard enough. Some of us cannot be athletes, some of us do not WANT to be athletes, & there is nothing wrong with that.

  4. Maddie · December 6, 2013

    I noticed that last year in freshman pe. All the fitness tests I have taken before I have passed with high scores, I am the athletic type. However, the rules were changed like you said and I failed the test because I could only do one push up, apparently I wasn’t going down far enough for 3 of them. For my previous tests we were given the whole time we could stay up to do push-ups the ones we did wrong just didn’t count, I would get about 30. I’ve talked to people about their results and most of them told me they failed, a majority of them were athletes I know. The state should change the testing back to the way it was before or just get rid of it.

    • joannadeadwinter · December 7, 2013

      Exactly. I’m not a fan of physical fitness testing anyway, because I tend to believe that it measures genetic rather than behavioral traits. However, there was a point at which your actual physical abilities were judged fairly (assuming accommodations were made for conditions or disabilities, of course). Now, you’re not allowed to participate anymore if you get anything wrong, but the testers don’t disclose that. If you can do 40 sit-ups a minute but you don’t warm up and you do the first three wrong, they’ll kick you out and tell the testing agency that so-and-so can’t even do three sit-ups, OMG! Lazy fatso! To me, that is purposefully misleading and it’s obviously an artifact of the test. There is NO legitimate reason to test that way, and I honestly think this is a scam to sell an epidemic of obesity and unfitness even further. This is why I refuse to take anything said about the fitness of middle and high school students seriously, because I can guarantee you a good chunk of those students that took that test were intentionally underscored. I used to get really high scores on sit-ups also, but according to the test, I can only do six in one minute and I’m not athletic. Lots of other people are in the same situation…very athletic, obviously fit, but getting pathetic scores (not that getting bad fitness scores makes you inferior as a person or even unhealthy). Basically I agree. If you must test, go back to the old methods. There was nothing wrong with them.

  5. k.jane · June 30, 2016

    I didn’t have to take a fitness test (I finished high school in 2008) but this now method just sounds ridiculous from a mathematical standpoint. As you said, many students are going to receive a lower score just because they did a few bad situps. They should just count the good ones and not count the bad ones.

    I liked physical activity during elementary school, but starting from middle school on it just seemed an effort to humiliate the less athletically inclined students. I’m was always the last person to finish running around the track in high school, and I was very glad I only had to take one year of gym. (It turns out that I am actually very good a sprinting short distances but apparently that’s not important if I can’t run a mile.)

    My parents tried to push me to do soccer as a kid because my brother was doing it but I just wasn’t interested. (Guess what. In the biggest cliche in the book, the coach turned out to be a child rapist.) I tried other activities too and I’d have fun for a while, but I guess I’ve always disliked over-bearing authority figures and most of those people were over-bearing especially because I was not good a ballet, I was not good at karate, and I was not good at any sports at all.

    • joannadeadwinter · June 30, 2016

      I finished school in 2008 also and they were just putting these tests into place when I left. I wonder if they are still doing them now. If so, then I hope people wake up soon to the fraud being perpetuated against them in order to fabricate a fake “epidemic” of unfit slobs. I’m glad you can also see how these tests are rigged. I grew up in an area where it was understood that just as not everyone can be a coloratura soprano, not everyone can be a theoretical physicist, not everyone can be an athlete. That is not the case anymore. I wasn’t always a failure at physical activity, but usually, the ones I was tested on I was. I found out later in life that I love rollerblading, swimming, and moving on my own terms. I think this is true of most people.

      It has been said that sports is warfare without the shooting. A lot of what you describe about the sports mentality comes not from physical activity but the military-like atmosphere that sports tends to create. People wonder why JROTC is so popular in schools, but the way I see it, sports is a ritualized form of the same.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s