The Texas Fitnessgram Idea May Not Be As Awe-Inspiring As Our Governor Would Have Us Think

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Earlier this week, Governor Rick Perry called a press conference to announce the results of last spring's statewide Fitnessgram assessment of Texas public-school students. According to a press release, the results were based on six tests "taken by more then two million students in grades 3-12, representing 85 percent of the state's school districts." Students were measured as they ran, jumped, and proved how flexible they were.

The results weren't exactly something to crow over, however. At the third-grade level, only "33.25 percent of the girls and 28.6 percent of the boys were in the healthy fitness zone on all six tests." Things got worse from there, ending with "a low at 12th grade with only 8.18 percent of girls and 8.96 percent of boys meeting healthy standards."

Actually, it was probably worse than that. In the Houston ISD for instance, only some of the students took the test. "It was a limited model because it was so late in the year when they called for it," HISD spokesman Norm Uhl tells Hair Balls.

So who did HISD recruit for the pilot group?  The kids in sports and other extracurriculars, Uhl says. So that would mean that the um, general -- non-sports -- population of the school would do what?

But don't worry, "the plan this year is to do everybody," Uhl says with a certain amount of glee. The district's physical-education folks are heading up the planning for it -- some HISD schools have already done it -- but they wanted to get past the first wave of the TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) and the school break, before testing anyone else, he says.

Which brings up the next question: How do you stop the whole thing from really bogus anyway? Over at my daughter's Fort Bend High School, everyone participated this year in the Fitnessgram -- during whatever period they had Social Studies. (We can just hear it now: "We're always lowest on the ladder. Why couldn't it have been those English teachers? We get no respect.")

Anyhow, when my soccer-playing daughter finished the mile in 10-plus something, my normal encouraging mama persona failed me. "Geez, that's not especially fast, hon," I told her. Indignantly, she told me that because it was done during Social Studies, she had to run around the track what she'd worn to school that day: a long-sleeved shirt and jeans.

"And, I came in first!" she said triumphantly. "No one else wanted to do it."

State Rep. Scott Hochberg has already raised questions about the worth of Perry's proposal to set aside $10 million for an incentive based health program directed at the lowest Fitnessgram scorers. Maybe it would be better to put the money into gyms at the elementaries (many of which don't have any such facility).

Schools already have a lot assigned to them besides teaching. If they're suddenly taking on the childhood obesity epidemic, then perhaps a better fitness test, regular gym classes and hey, a return to more PE credits in high school might be in order. Or instead, think about funding this from public-health funds instead of education.

And remember: you can line them up but you can't make them run. What's next: remedial gym class?   

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