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Testing in Physical Education
Many parents and teachers ask us: Should there be testing in physical education? Or, which tests are best for physical education?

Unfortunately, most people, when they think of testing in physical education, center on fitness testing, such as the President's Council's Physical Fitness Test. It is our opinion that emphasizing physical fitness is too narrow an assessment. In reality, there are four main domains of physical education. These four are: acquisition of motor skills, physical fitness, knowledge (strategies and rules of the game; plus benefits of physical activity, how to learn motor skills and mechanical analysis of movement, to name a few) and physical activity-related personal-social skills (such as best effort, sportsmanship, cooperation and others). A quality assessment of physical education is to include evaluation of each of these four main content areas (motor skills, physical fitness, knowledge and personal-social). Missing one of these evaluation areas in physical education would be tantamount to skipping the evaluation of division in math, verb usage in language arts, the Constitution of the U.S. in social studies or biology in science.
Why test?
Many teachers use testing only to see if their students are making satisfactory progress. Student evaluation is just a small part of the equation, however. In fact, testing primarily concerns you and your curriculum, not only your students.

For starters, testing allows the teacher to tailor-make the curriculum. Simply put, if your students do well in the mile run/walk, but perform motor skills poorly, the instructor should increase the emphasis on teaching a variety of fundamental, object control and rhythm skills. Testing also allows the teacher to design a special program for a student not progressing as desired.

Testing also helps an instructor measure curriculum effectiveness. If the emphasis has been on throwing and catching yet the students do poorly on a throwing and catching test, something is wrong. This tells the instructor that the teaching strategies did not work or that the school does not schedule adequate time for physical education class.

Testing also justifies the curriculum.  Let's say the next year the  curriculum changes and student motor skill scores improve. Testing provides concrete evidence that the instruction, and the changes in the curriculum, made an impact on children's learning and acquisition of skills.

Finally, testing gives motivated students incentive to become physically active. For example, testing allows Motivated Mary to see that she needs to acquire more knowledge, fitness, motor skills, etc. As a result, she may begin running after school and improve not only her school mile run/walk time, but also her aerobic fitness level.

The above reasons are much more educationally sound than testing only for grades. Viewing testing as an evaluation of teaching, learning, the curriculum and school environment is a much healthier and more holistic approach to assessment.
Cardiovascular Testing in Schools
One of the most popular assessments in physical education is aerobic, or cardiorespiratory, fitness. Aerobic fitness refers to the ability of the body to pick up oxygen, transport it through the body and have the body use it. Currently, several cardiorespiratory tests are used to measure the aerobic fitness levels of youth in America's schools. Here is an evaluation of five of the more popular aerobic tests.

As you read these evaluations, keep these key definitions in mind:
Validity: The extent to which a test measures what it is supposed to measure.
Reliability: Dependability of scores, their relative freedom from error.
Mile Run/Walk:
Tests cardiorespiratory fitness levels by having students run (jog or walk if necessary) one mile as fast as possible.
Equipment
A one-mile course, one stopwatch and a score card and pencil for each student.
Pros
  • Very simple to give.
  • Distance long enough to determine aerobic power rather than speed.
  • Reliability rather high.
Cons
  • Could be a bit longer. Students can often "gut" it out, making it a test of motivation rather than fitness.
  • Kids can see where they finished, causing poorly performing students embarrassment.
  • Often hard to motivate students to perform to their ability level.
600-Yard Run/Walk:
Supposedly tests cardiorespiratory fitness levels by having students cover 600 yards as fast as possible. It is one of the weakest cardiovascular tests summarized here.
Equipment
A 600-yard course, one stopwatch and a score card and pencil for each student.
Pros
  • Short.
  • Simple to deliver after the course is laid out.
  • High reliability.
Cons
  • Tests speed rather than aerobic power.
  • Often difficult to lay out a course which is 600 yards long.
  • Validity questioned.
Pacer (Progressive Aerobic Cardiovascular Run)
Students run for as long as possible between two marked lines set at 20 meters apart. They navigate the distance between two marked lines, keeping pace with a series of beeps. Students can miss two beeps before they are stopped. Score is determined by how many laps a student can do.
Equipment
A tape player, a PACER cassette tape, marker cones, lines measured 20 meters apart and a score card and pencil for each student.
Pros
  • Easily done indoors.
  • Most like the treadmill test with its progressively building tempo.
  • A generally reliable and valid test.
Cons
  • Requires more equipment than most other tests.
  • Often difficult for students to learn.
20-Minute Run:
Tests cardiorespiratory fitness levels by having students run as far as possible in 20 minutes.
Equipment
A running course, one stopwatch and a score card and pencil for each student.
Pros
  • Very simple.
  • Students not compared to others to the same extent as in the mile run/walk and the 600-yard run/walk.
  • Long enough to test aerobic power rather than speed.
  • A generally reliable and valid test.
Cons
  • The length of the test often scares students.
  • Determining normative data for the test often proves difficult.
Step Test:
Tests cardiorespiratory fitness by having the student take 24 steps per minute for three minutes in an "up, up, down, down" pattern and then count his or her heart rate for one minute. Along with the 600-yard run/walk, it is one of the weakest cardiovascular tests.
Equipment
A bench 12 inches in height, metronome set at 96 beats per minute, a stopwatch, a stethoscope (carotid pulse can also be used).
Pros
  • Pulse recovery rather than a performance test.
  • Shorter.
  • Students not visually compared to anyone else (usually).
Cons
  • Very low validity and reliability.
  • Depends too heavily on people's pulse rates. Natural differences can change results.