2017-01-13 / Schools

Student fitness tests show mixed results

Fifth- and ninth-graders outperform peers statewide
By Michael Aushenker


GET THOSE HEARTS PUMPING—Fifth-graders at Simi Valley’s Garden Grove Elementary School run laps during a physical education session Tues., Jan. 10. 
ROB VARELA/Acorn Newspapers GET THOSE HEARTS PUMPING—Fifth-graders at Simi Valley’s Garden Grove Elementary School run laps during a physical education session Tues., Jan. 10. ROB VARELA/Acorn Newspapers Fifth- and ninth-graders in the Simi Valley Unified School District slightly outperformed or matched their peers statewide in physical fitness tests taken last school year, while results for seventh-graders dipped below state averages.

According to the California Department of Education’s recently released 2015-16 California Physical Fitness Report, Simi students are also generally less healthy today than their counterparts 15 years ago.

“This year’s physical fitness test results, which are down very slightly, remind all of us as educators, parents and community leaders that we need to convey (a message of good nutritional habits) to our children,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in a statement.

The Department of Education tested 1.3 million students statewide in 2015-16. Physical fitness exams were divided into six categories: aerobic capacity, body composition, abdominal strength, trunk extension strength, upper body strength and flexibility.

First published in 1990, the state’s physical fitness report examines public school kids in grades five, seven and nine, determining which fall into the “healthy fitness zone.”

Local results

Of the 1,234 SVUSD fifth-graders tested in 2015-16, 65 percent scored within the healthy fitness zone in aerobic capacity, up dramatically from 53 percent in 2000-01.

In body composition, 62 percent of SVUSD fifth-graders proved fit—much lower than in 2000-01, when 72 percent were in the healthy zone.

About 74 percent tested well in abdominal strength, down from 82 percent in 2000-01, and about 83 percent exhibited strong trunk extension strength, compared to 88 percent 15 years ago.

The tests showed 66 percent of fifth-graders had adequate upper body strength, down from 69 percent in 2000-01.

In flexibility, 79 percent proved healthy, up slightly from 2000-01’s 76 percent.

Overall, Simi Valley fifth-graders did better than their peers statewide. Throughout California, 63 percent of fifth-graders were in the healthy zone in aerobic capacity, 60 percent in body composition, 73 percent in abdominal strength, 85 percent in trunk extension strength, 65 percent in upper body strength and 73 percent in flexibility.

Among the 1,313 SVUSD seventh-graders tested last year, at least 75 percent scored within the healthy fitness zone on three tests—abdominal strength, trunk extension strength and flexibility. These numbers are down from 85 percent or higher in those same categories in 2000-01.

Seventh-graders also showed sharp drops in aerobic capacity, body composition and upper body strength in 2015-16 compared to 15 years ago.

Simi Valley seventh-graders outperformed their peers at the state level in only two categories: body composition and flexibility.

Among 1,349 SVUSD ninth-graders, at least 76 percent scored within the healthy fitness zone on four tests—abdominal strength, trunk extension strength, upper body strength and flexibility. These numbers are down from statistics in 2000-01.

Ninth-graders showed improvement in aerobic capacity— 65 percent tested within the healthy fitness zone in 2015-16, compared to 52 percent in 2000- 01, statistics show.

The report, however, showed a sharp drop in the body composition category. About 69 percent were in the healthy zone in 2015- 16, down 11 percentage points from 2000-01.

Local ninth-graders did better than their statewide peers in all categories but trunk extension strength and flexibility.

Room for improvement

Terri Leon, SVUSD’s coordinator of curriculum and assessment, said such results can be difficult to assess.

“It’s hard to compare kids across the years simply because you don’t have the same students,” Leon said, also citing the variations among students’ physical types.

“Much of it is due to the body index,” she said. “A larger student must run faster to be considered fit.”

An internal SVUSD meeting rallying the district’s physical education teachers is scheduled for mid-February to discuss how best to address lower-scoring areas such as body composition and aerobic capacity (a historically low category for SVUSD), despite the fact that the aerobic capacity scores of fifth- and ninth-graders were up quite a bit from 15 years ago.

Recognizing that California’s test results reflect a larger nationwide problem, Leon said, “Nutrition can always improve for students.”

School administrators try their best to encourage healthy habits in a variety of ways, she said, with nutrition speakers visiting P.E. classes and a ninth-grade health course requirement. School lunches are nutritionally balanced, while high school campus stores no longer sell soda or snacks exceeding low levels of sugar or fat.

“Kids are hearing this information, but how, as a school, can we control individual habits?” Leon said. “The best we can do is educate.”

To view statewide and local physical fitness test results, go to https://goo.gl/q1dUcp.

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