How Do You Assess Student Fitness Levels?

fitness levels

Alex Slezak – M.Ed, YFS, YSAS, HSSCS


Often I see physical education programs comparing student data to norms or standards and then inferring if a student is healthy or not. I have no problem with comparing data to norms; however, I think it can be a bit of a stretch to classify a child as “healthy” or “unhealthy” based only on a few tests. In my experience sometimes children score low not because they are unfit, but because the test is inappropriate or involves a novel movement pattern. I also wonder what effect labeling a young child as healthy or unhealthy has on them?  My point with all of this is that I personally think we are missing the boat on the real value of assessments. Assessments are not about being able to tell someone if they are healthy or not but rather should be used to drive instruction and provide critical feedback to the effectiveness of the instruction to both the teacher and student.

There are so many test batteries available to physical educators. Many professionals heatedly debate over which is better than the other. The truth is, none are inherently “better.” A test is only clearly better when it meets unique needs. Selecting a test begins with knowing what you want to asses and how you are going to use the results. For example, I may do a heart rate mile test with seniors in high school just to see where conditioning levels are at the beginning of the year. By doing this, I know which students need a more intense training stimulus to elicit adaptation and which do not.

Fitness Levels

In this class, one of my goals would be to improve conditioning regardless of the level they enter with. It would make no sense to hold those back who need an intense and focal stimulus, nor does it make sense to punish those with ridiculously hard workouts when they do not need them to improve. This assessment allows me to individualize my instruction. I can then run this same test again to see if there is an improvement. This will allow me to assess the effectiveness of my program and adjust or modify as necessary. The assessment allows me to create better-designed lessons and provides both teacher and student with critical feedback. For students, few things are more motivating than actually seeing results.

I also select tests according to age-appropriateness for the population with which I am working. For example, in elementary school I do not focus on tests of strength and conditioning like I would for high school students. I say that because oftentimes these aspects improve simply because children are maturing and growing. It is obvious that if a student’s heart and lungs grows bigger, so too will conditioning capacity.

Instead, my goal in elementary school is to develop general athletic ability and coordination. It is easy to see that using a mile run is not going to provide me much useful information to design lessons or see if instruction is working. In this case, I am more likely to select a qualitative assessment like the Functional Movement Screen (FMS). This helps me identify the students who have good fundamental movement patterns and those who do not. This also provides a basis for designing instruction. When I assess the athletes again later, subsequent FMSs tell me if the instruction I am delivering is meeting my goal of making the athletes better movers.

In summary, no test is better than any other. In fact, I think any coach or fitness professional working with young athletes should be familiar with a wide variety of both quantitative and qualitative assessments. The wider the array of tools in the toolbox, the better equipped a professional will be at employing tests that are appropriate and that provide the necessary feedback to design and deliver the best instruction possible. Anyone who is truly a teacher at heart should want to do the best possible job, and appropriate assessments can help do just that.

Alex is a Physical Education teacher and operates a tennis & fitness training business in Pittsburgh, PA. You can learn more by visiting his website at www.AlexSlezak.com.



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