California May Pause Student Fitness Tests Due to Concerns About Bullying

California Governor Gavin Newsom wants to put a hold on physical education tests for California students over concerns about bullying and that the tests could be discriminatory against disabled and non-binary students.

The proposal was discovered tucked in a budget bill submitted by Newsom's office last week. According to Politico, the physical education tests would be suspended for three years while the California Department of Education consulted with experts in fitness, adaptive physical education gender identities and students with disabilities, regarding the "purpose and administration of the physical performance test."

The state has required all fifth, seventh, and ninth grade students enrolled in California school districts take a test that measures their aerobic capacity, flexibility, and upper body strength since 1996. Under Newsom's proposal, the tests would suspended until 2023.

H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the Finance Department, said the state has received multiple complaints about the test's requirement to measure the student's body mass index and that it's discriminatory to non-binary students, NBC News reports. BMI screenings require the students to choose "male" or "female."

“Dispelling myths, breaking down stereotypes and improving school climate is one way California is working to keep all students safe and healthy, consistent with the Governor’s commitment to a California that respects all students,” Palmer said on Monday. “Given the body of research on the impacts of bullying on transgender and special education students, during this period of suspension, it’s important to take this pause and determine whether the current test can be modified or whether a new assessment should be developed.”

The proposal comes following a report from the AP that there has been a steady decline seen in students' fitness tests since the 2014-15 school year. Scores have dropped considerably in the "aerobic capacity" category of the fitness test. According to the report, the percentage of fifth-graders who scored a healthy score has dropped by 3.3 points. Older students have seen even steeper drops.

The percentage of students who have been identified as "needing improvement" and/or had a "health risk" went up by 3.3 points among fifth-graders, 4.4 for seventh-graders and 3.8 points among ninth-graders.

However, in a study published last year, researchers found that PE fitness tests had very little positive impact on students' health.

“Our results show that extreme views on this controversial subject may be unfounded, since fitness tests neither put students off P.E. nor encourage a positive outlook on participation," Kelly Simonton, a researcher at Louisiana State University, said in the report. "What's more, school fitness tests are rarely used to educate students about fitness and they're often implemented poorly, so we cannot help but think that class time would be better spent [on] equipping students with knowledge and skills that more closely support the P.E. curriculum."

According to the latest data from the California Department of Education, about 60 percent of the state's students are considered to be in the "healthy fitness zone."

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