This term, students in Polk County public schools will be evaluated beyond the subjects of math, science and reading. Students will receive report cards assessing their health and fitness.
It’s the first time all 105 traditional public schools in the district distribute the Fitnessgram, a report that educates students and parents about the student’s physical health.
The nationally recognized report evaluates a student’s performance in activities, such as sit-ups and trunk lifts. The evaluation focuses on areas like muscle strength, endurance and flexibility to measure the students’ fitness, according to a release by the Cooper Institute.
Polk County, along with Miami-Dade, Pinellas and Seminole, is one of a few districts in Florida that requires the Fitnessgram.
In a 2014 summary of the results from all schools, Polk found that more than 50 percent of students were in the Healthy Fitness Zone, opposed to Needs Improvement classification, for every category. Categories include: aerobic capacity, muscle strength/endurance/flexibility and body composition.
The highest scores were in abdominal strength, where 74 percent of the district was in the Healthy Fitness Zone. However, body composition, the body’s proportion of fat and lean tissue, received the lowest scores, and 52 percent were in the Healthy Fitness Zone.
“When we give students the opportunity to experience real data, the learning connections are stronger and deeper,” said Kathleen Wright, Polk County physical education curriculum specialist.
The data also helps the teachers design classes that target those weak areas. The districtwide assessment will make physical education classes more relevant and rigorous for students, Wright said.
Educating students about fitness encourages them to participate more in physical activities. When students are more active, they feel better and become more productive, which could lead to a rise in academic achievement, Wright said.
“If you let them self-assess every once in a while so they can see their gains, that’s a huge motivator,” Wright said.
In a 2008 study of students from Pinellas County Schools, ages ranging from 5 to 18, researchers found that students who scored higher in the Healthy Fitness Zone also had higher FCAT scores.
Susan Searls, physical education teacher at Davenport School of the Arts, said her biggest challenge is teaching students that it’s not okay to be sedentary. The Fitnessgram is about showing them how their inactivity can affect their health.
“It’s amazing,” Searls said. “Kids can’t do a proper push-up; they can’t do a sit-up.”
In a 2014 summary of Pinellas County, the highest scores were in trunk extension, 68 percent of the district was in the Healthy Fitness Zone. The lowest scores were in aerobic capacity, 6 percent of students were in the Healthy Fitness Zone.
“Our first goal is kids being healthier and more active in school,” Wright said. “I think a positive consequence is that hopefully we’ll see a decline in our obesity rates.”
A 2012 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 14.7 percent of adolescents in Florida were overweight and 10.3 percent were obese.
Christopher Roberts, principal of Highland City Elementary School, said his biggest concern is whether parents will take the time to read and understand the Fitnessgram.
Searls believes that if parents are unhappy with their child’s health report, it might encourage them to get their kids active at home. After-school programs, like the Y and the Boys and Girls Club of America, may also be inspired to create more activities for students.
“Obviously we want the best for our district and our county, but it’s got to be a community-wide event, or we’re not going to be able to change things,” Searls said.