Generally, I’m not the biggest fan of clickbait headlines, and I mention this because while I know that using an expletive in a title is likely to draw some attention, I’m only doing it because of how strongly I feel about this topic.
I was in the best physical shape I’ve ever been in when I was 19 years old, and at that point, I could run a mile at a slightly sub-nine minute pace. According to the “Test Administrators Manual” for the Connecticut Physical Fitness Assessment, that would put me solidly in the “Needs Improvement Zone” for my age group. To a 19-year-old, somewhat mature enough to set realistic fitness goals, that may not be the end of the world. However, to a nine-year-old, being asked to participate in the one-mile walk/run assessment for the first time, being told one needs improvement without really explaining what that means can be incredibly harmful.
As the manual says, “providing feedback is an important element [of] all assessment[s] and should be provided to each student taking the assessment, as well as their parents.” This is true, however, like much of how this system is set up, how to execute the ideas of the manual is not clear. Both the mile walk/run and the P.A.C.E.R. test, the two options for aerobic capacity testing, take place in an environment where a large group of students is being tested all at once. There simply is not enough time to give one-on-one feedback in-person, and especially at a young age, anything written afterward is only really going to go to the parents. What kids take away from the test is not the few words of encouragement they may have been given by a P.E. teacher, it is the visible result of how they finished compared to the rest of their class.
Within a group testing setting, it’s simply irresponsible to ignore the social element that exists. For the 2021-2022 school year, statistics from EdSight on ct.gov show that only 72.7% of fourth-graders, 67.4% of sixth-graders, 58.7% of eighth-graders and 53.8% of high school students reached the “health standard” for the mile run. That’s a lot of kids failing, and not only failing, but failing in front of their peers. An eight-year-old that struggles around the track as their classmates find success isn’t going to want to hear a few words about how to improve their time, they’re going to be ashamed that they couldn’t do as well as everyone else.
There are many reasons why some students won’t hit the same benchmarks that other students will, but we as a society should not be using this medium to try to make them all better. Instead of pushing students to get a certain score, which completely disregards that students grow at different rates and that some have disabilities, explaining general positive habits for promoting physical health would go a much longer way. Eight-year-olds are very impressionable — explaining that consistent exercise can lead to a healthier lifestyle can make a great impact on them, while shaming them because their mile time wasn’t fast enough for the state can lead to years of insecurity and bad habits formed trying to fix that insecurity.
One thing I should address is a statement I made in the prior paragraph — that the testing doesn’t account for students with disabilities. I must acknowledge that the manual actually does discuss this, but once again, when there is a need to flesh out any of the protocols, those in-depth explanations simply don’t exist.
The manual has a section titled “Exemptions/Alternate Assignments.” In this section, the suggestion for creating alternative test strategies is the following:
“If a test item is inappropriate for the individual student with a disability, schools should, to the best of their ability, make accommodations to allow the student to be assessed using appropriate standards and assessments.”
Later on in the paragraph, the manual states this:
“To ensure exemptions and alternate assessments are administered equally and with fidelity, schools should maintain documentation supporting the exemption of a student or the use of an Connecticut Physical Fitness Assessment Test Administrator’s Manual alternative assessment. The CSDE reserves the right to request and/or examine such documentation.”
While it’s nice that there is both a plan to give alternate assessments to those who may need one, and also a plan to hold schools accountable for making these assessments fair and equal, the one question I have to ask is this: Where are the actual guidelines? This is the manual for how to administer the test, which includes detailed instructions on how to assess those able to be tested via the original assessment. If true equity is the goal, actually standardizing instructions instead of just trusting each district and then checking up later is a necessary step.
I am personally an example of this system not working. As a student with asthma and femoral retroversion (a hip issue), my doctor gave me a note explaining I should sit out the mile run. Instead of participating, I stood on the side of the track and watched my classmates do the test that was planned. So much for “ensuring” anything.
This article really is just a sounding board for all of the feelings and problems I have related to physical fitness testing, so I think the most fitting way to end it is by sharing the rationale the state gives for doing the practice in the first place:
“The one-mile run has been a standard element of the CPFA since its inception. Many students enjoy distance running and are highly motivated by the activity both for sport and recreation. Numerous physical education and athletic programs across the state include curricular and extracurricular distance running activities. There is significant research that has been conducted over a long period of time that supports the value of running for children, as well as the validity and reliability of evaluating aerobic fitness with the one-mile run test.”
Reading this left me speechless. If the best reasons the state can give are that the mile-run has been around a long time, that kids like to play sports and a completely devoid-of-citations claim that copious amounts of research have been done to support the testing, then the state needs to get back to the drawing board.
We should absolutely be encouraging students to engage in physical activity, but there’s a big difference between that and forcing students to perform specific displays of athleticism for the purpose of compiling statistics. The benefits for research simply just don’t outweigh the consequences the testing can have on students.