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Draft Standards for Health, P.E. Are Released

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Health and physical-fitness educators have seized their chance to move up to first class, releasing draft national standards that outline what students should know and be able to do in those subjects.

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education this month also issued a separate 84-page draft document that details what athletic coaches should know and be able to do.

Health and physical education, though not quite alone, are two fields that are not cited in the Goals 2000: Educate America Act. Nor have they received federal funding, as have the arts, civics, English, foreign languages, geography, history, and science.

The American Cancer Society has chiefly underwritten the health standards, while NASPE has paid for its own projects.

"If you work in physical education ... you're accustomed to being a second-class citizen," said Judith E. Rink, the chairwoman of NASPE's standards and assessment task force. "We're hoping that this will have some kind of impact in helping people understand what we really are."

Rising Academic Status?

Both NASPE and the Joint Health Education Standards Committee took pains in their draft documents to state that children need to learn about--and practice--health and physical fitness if they, and the United States, are to be successful.

"A major recognized threat to economic competitiveness is the health status of the workforce," the introduction to the health-education standards says.

"Therefore, student acquisition of health knowledge and skills is as significant to economic competitiveness, quality of life, and school reform as the knowledge and skills taught through any other subject," the document continues.

The physical-education draft, meanwhile, asserts that standards belie the assumption that physical education is "academically soft."

"The standards essentially say that physical education has academic standing," the introduction states. "They say there is such a thing as achievement, that knowledge and skills matter, and that mere willing participation is not the same as education."

Health Frameworks

Health education is made up of seven standards encompassing physical, mental, emotional, and social health. Although called content standards, they bear greater resemblance to frameworks.

The fifth standard, for example, says that "students will demonstrate the ability to use effective interpersonal-communication skills which enhance health."

Accompanying the standard is a list of performance indicators that are broken down by grades 4, 8, and 11. One indicator says students are expected to be able to "express needs, wants, and feelings appropriately" by the end of 4th grade.

As they finish 8th grade, children should be able to "develop strategies to manage feelings caused by disappointment, separation, or loss." By 11th grade, they should be able to "evaluate the result of open and honest communication in relationships."

Another standard focuses on enhancing healthful behaviors and reducing health risks. It does not specifically address such potentially controversial issues as sexuality and substance abuse, but a matrix depicting grade levels and suggested topics is included in the package.

The health standards also include what committee members call "systems standards," which are more widely known as "opportunity to learn" standards. They describe what schools, families, and communities must provide for children to achieve health literacy.

The drafters say their intent was to develop broad guidelines. "We feel strongly that the actual content needs to be developed at the local school district level," said Becky J. Smith, the executive director of the Association for the Advancement of Health Education, a member of the standards committee.

She said that is especially true for sensitive topics. "Healthy topics are, by nature, very personal," Ms. Smith said. "Unlike algebra, which is generic, real health hazards are different in different parts of the country for different reasons."

Begging for Guidance

In contrast, the physical-education standards are as specific as the health standards are broad.

Although there are just eight content standards, each one elaborates on what is expected of children in kindergarten and grades 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12.

The standard is further reinforced with general criteria for assessment and sample benchmarks, as well as a variety of assessment options and examples.

Ms. Rink, a professor of physical education at the University of South Carolina, said the physical-education standards are detailed because practitioners have been begging for guidance.

Because developmentally sequenced materials are lacking, she said, the task force believed it was important to have narrow breakdowns, especially for the K-2 level.

NASPE chose to write standards that incorporate such values as respect for the differences of others and good sportsmanship.

"Part of the problem is the physical-education environment is a major social laboratory because of its very nature," Ms. Rink said.

Targeting Coaches

While those two sets of standards focus on children, a third targets coaches.

The proposed five-level program of coaching competency evolved from a summit last spring in which NASPE brought together members of the education and athletic communities from across the nation. (See Education Week, March 9, 1994.)

The draft standards, which cover 320 competencies within eight domains, describe what coaches should know and be able to do at five ascending levels: entering volunteer, volunteer with one season of experience, entering nonfaculty or walk-on, experienced professional, and master.

All coaches, beginning with those at level 1, for instance, will be expected to "stop or modify practice or play when unsafe conditions exist." Not until they have achieved level 4 or 5, though, would they be expected to "be active ... in working for the formulation of rules that influence the safety and healthful participation of athletes in the sport being coached."

For draft copies of the physical-education and coaching standards, write NASPE, 1900 Association Dr., Reston, Va. 22091. The health standards are available from the A.A.H.E. at the same address.

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