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Advocating Lifelong Activity, Group Unveils P.E. Standards

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Arlington, Va.

Judith E. Rink, a physical-education professor at the University of South Carolina, cannot help but wonder about the people she sees ride the elevator to the third-floor exercise room in the building where she works.

It is this kind of incongruous behavior, as well as archaic ideas toward physical education, that Ms. Rink and her fellow experts said they hoped to eradicate with the release here last week of the voluntary national standards for physical education.

"We want the American public to put aside the pejorative notions of gym class and develop a greater understanding and appreciation of the role physical education should play in our children's total education," Hubert A. Hoffman, the president of the National Association for Sport & Physical Education, said at a news conference held to unveil the standards.

Naspe developed the guidelines that outline what children should know about physical education and be able to do.

By 6th grade, Mr. Hoffman said, many students have come to believe that they are physically incompetent. Consequently, he added, "they are on a path to becoming spectators rather than full and active participants in life."

Moreover, should the United States continue to breed a culture of inactivity, a staggering burden will be placed on the nation's health-care system, said Tom McMillen, a co-chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.

Lifelong Activity

The release of the physical-education standards marks another milestone in the national movement to set demanding expectations of K-12 students.

The 1994-95 school year alone saw the release of final versions of national standards in civics and government, geography, health, history, social studies, and now physical education, although history may un~dergo further revision. (See related story .)

At the same time, growing evidence suggests that states are drawing from the national documents to craft their curriculum frameworks, despite criticisms that some of the standards are unrealistically ambitious or politically biased.

The newest document to be released is made up of seven standards that describe what students should know by the end of kindergarten and grades 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12.

(See Education," also provides sample activities and assessments.

The standards are designed to promote a healthy, enjoyable lifestyle from the moment youngsters enter school; teach respect for and toleration of peers who are less skilled, as well as those of a different gender, race, or ethnicity; and provide a body of knowledge in the field similar to that of the more traditional academic disciplines.

"The new standards place physical education clearly in the mainstream of educational reform, integral to the academic core," Ms. Rink, the chairwoman of the standards project, asserted last week.

For example, as early as kindergarten, students are expected to begin establishing a vocabulary to meet the standard: "A physically educated student applies movement concepts and principles to the learning and development of motor skills." By 12th grade, those students might have to take an essay examination to test "their understanding of the physiological principles ... governing fitness maintenance and improvement."

The standards also emphasize the development of all students' physical skills, regardless of natural athletic ability.

Naspe recommends a daily minimum of 30 minutes of physical education at the elementary level, excluding recess and play time, with increasing amounts of time devoted to the discipline as students get older.

Challenges Ahead

Officials of the physical-education group acknowledge, however, that persuading school officials to put rigorous physical-education programs in place will be a challenge.

According to Mr. Hoffman, school districts throughout the country have been seeking waivers from state physical-education requirements because of financial constraints.

Moreover, while some schools have managed to save programs, they have done so by cutting back on qualified physical education teachers and giving classroom teachers the added responsibility.

With the release of the standards, though, the physical-education specialists did get at least one convert last week.

Robert R. Spillane, the superintendent of schools in Fairfax County, Va., said he is always touting his district's achievements in such subjects as mathematics, science, and foreign languages.

"I'm ashamed of myself because I don't mention that we are below the mean in the President's physical-fitness program," said Mr. Spillane. "I vow that is going to change today."

The following excerpt is from the voluntary national physical-education standards released last week. This sample applies to 6th graders.


Achieves and maintains a health-enhancing level of physical fitness.

The emphasis for the 6th-grade student will be to:

Participate in moderate to vigorous physical activity in a variety of settings.
Monitor intensity of exercise.
Begin to develop a strategy for the improvement of selected fitness components.
Work somewhat independently with minimal supervision in pursuit of personal fitness goals.
Meet the health-related fitness standards as defined by a Fitnessgram (a physical-fitness test).

Sample Benchmarks:

1. Keeps a record of heart rate prior to, during, and after vigorous physical activity.

2. Participates in fitness-enhancing organized physical activities outside of school (e.g., gymnastics clubs, community-sponsored youth sports).

3. Engages in physical activity at the target heart rate for a minimum of 20 minutes.

4. Correctly demonstrates activities designed to improve and maintain muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and cardiorespiratory functioning.

Assessment Example:

Group project--observational record

Students, working in small groups, are asked to design a "fitness video" depicting exercises or activities appropriate for each component of health-related fitness. The group presentation will include a verbal description of each fitness component as well as demonstration of the selected exercises or physical activity. The group may choose a class presentation or an actual video.

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