Grading Reform Needed in Physical Education

Ava Mason and Annette Ungermann

Physical Education should not be graded on athletic ability, but on one’s personal effort.

For many high school freshman and sophomores, the P.E. period is a source of unnecessary anxiety. The problem is that physical education assesses students relative to a universal standard rather than on individual improvement when determine grades.

The California Department of Education classifies physical education as a program that is meant “to ensure that students develop positive social skills, cooperate with others, and accept responsibility for their own actions.”  Awarding grades based upon a student’s performance of various tasks like running, sit ups or pull ups relative to a single standard does not help to accomplish these goals.

In my elementary school experience, P.E. was a part of the curriculum, yet it did not emphasize athletic ability so much as it attempted to foster healthy habits and good sportsmanship. Throughout the year I was tested on various activities, but those results were only used to determine whether or not I was making progress.

In high school, test results are submitted to the state department of education and used to determine our relative level of health and fitness.  They are also used to determine our grade in the course.

Campolindo uses physical performance relative to a single set standard as 70% of the total grade for the course. The remaining 30% of the grade is determined from written assignments and quizzes on health and sport concepts.

One example of a physical performance assessment is the timed mile run. To earn an “A” for this test girls must run the 4 lap distance in 7:30 while boys must do it in 6:45. Achievement of this goal requires not only that the student work diligently on his or her fitness each day, but also that the student possess the fitness background and the genetic predisposition for distance running competency.  Such a method of assessment does not address the rate of improvement a student may demonstrate.

Individual effort, improvement over time, whether with regard to physical or mental aspects of the curriculum, is not a factor in determining student grades in P.E.

Alison Adams, Campolindo’s Physical Education Department Chair, noted that the grading criteria is not something that the school itselfs controls. “We are following the district and state requirements,” she said. “It’s not based on student’s needs, it is what we are mandated to do.”

Yet, these requirements can be altered. According to the Florida Times-Union, “Physical education classes nationwide are switching focus toward fitness knowledge and encouraging healthy lifestyles, and away from fitness competition and tests of endurance.”

Duval County schools in Jacksonville, Florida discourage P.E. teachers from weighting grades on meeting performance standards, giving the teacher flexibility in how to assess progress and whether or not to include more academic options. For example, a teacher may give students the opportunity of a health report rather than a run test to earn credit.

Madison Junior High School in Naperville, Illinois has changed up their curriculum by implementing “heart rate monitors that students wear during their weekly twelve-minute run/walk.”  Given the variety of backgrounds and physical traits among a class, tracking heart rate reveals the true effort that each student is putting into their run, something a stopwatch can not do.  This approach shows how P.E. classes at Madison are “more about developing a healthy lifestyle” that is much more likely to provide a lifetime of benefits

P.E. should use effort and its resulting improvement as the most important factor in determining the grade for the course. Hard work can, in fact, be measured. Through pre-testing student ability at the beginning of the year, and then comparing all subsequent performances with those results, teachers can fairly evaluate student progress.

Focus should be on achieving personal bests.

Reform that places emphasis on improvement will undoubtedly help to ensure students find their P.E. period is purposeful and satisfying.  With each student working to make appropriate and reasonable progress rather than some finding “success” by hitting arbitrary standards while most feel like failures as they fall short, P.E. will return to being a source of pleasure, and health, for all.