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What’s Worth Measuring in Physical Education?

By Neil Griffiths
What’s Worth Measuring in Physical Education?

As noted by Robert Pangrazi (2008), the teaching of PE has migrated through a multitude of approaches over the past century. Concurrent with this have come cycles of change in the way we assess and evaluate within education.
As a part of PE’s history, and usually for the purpose of grading and reporting, we have attempted to quantify individual skills, teamwork, heart rates, goal setting, attitudes, perseverance, performance, punctuality, recall, critical thinking, creativity, fitness, character, values, endurance, interpersonal intelligence, speed, attire, participation, reflection, writing ability, sports ethics, peer teaching, and much more.
With the evolving nature of education, concerning our students and the betterment of society, it is likely that the journey to identify what’s worth measuring in PE is not yet over. Could it be that the root of the problem lies in our inability to embrace student-centered programming, and in our misplaced competitive need as adults to stratify physical ability in our students?
Learning in PE happens on a multitude of levels, but when it comes to evaluating this, where should we focus our attention?
Few would argue that assessing students for learning does not have a central place in PE. Indeed, the frequent and timely delivery of formative feedback while students are engaged in action and learning is integral to an individual’s progress within the PE class setting. This feedback is fundamental to the development of the particular skills, strategies, concepts, or values in focus at any given time. However, when it comes to quantifying student achievement based on these or the multitude of other targeted potential learning outcomes, perhaps we are overdue on a major re-think.
If we are going to require evidence of achievement in PE, and attempt to attach a value judgment to our expectations, where should we be looking? Perhaps it should be strictly at something that is more individually centered. How many PE programs exclusively evaluate students on the individual’s chosen areas of interest?
In this growing age of technology it is becoming relatively easy for students to collect evidence of the application of learning, whether it be evidence gathered in PE class, during recess, during the after school sports program, in the dance studio, at home, in the garden, at the gym, in the park, at the sailing club, or at the local ice rink. Why would we limit ourselves, and our students, to the archaic notion that their natural abilities have to be judged against the PE program that has been prescribed?
What should not be up for discussion is the need for our students to be active in meeting the following guidelines: “The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that young people aged 6–17 years participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily”(U.S. HHS, 2008). However, should it really matter from where the evidence for this physical activity emanates?
As PE educators, what could be more student-centered than to evaluate our students in their chosen areas of interest? Wouldn’t every student prefer to be allowed the option of showcasing their knowledge, goal setting, passion, performance, and much more in the areas of their choice, as opposed to being evaluated against the program offered by the particular school, one which is usually driven by available facilities and teacher preferences?
If we combine this simple yet student- focused initiative with a second one that specifically targets the individual’s personal fitness and health goals, perhaps we will have inspired students to see PE as something that is there to serve student needs, not something that is there to pass, fail, or stratify their physical abilities.
For the vast majority of us, our capacity to remain healthy and active for the long-term will depend on our ability to develop appropriate attitudes toward engagement in physical activity, and our ability to find success, pleasure, and reward from a relatively specific area of focus. If we are to connect our schooling to the rest of our lives, then we have to make relevant the areas in which we as educators seek a need for measurement.
Society needs students who have been encouraged to follow passions that inspire habitual forms of physical activity throughout their lives. These habits form when students are supported in their choices, not measured on their limitations. Perhaps it is time that we stop inventing PE assessment criteria that focus on our needs as evaluators, and focus instead on the real needs of our students and society.
Pangrazi, R.P. (2008). A New Focus: Active and Healthy Schools.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

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