Phys Ed: A Faulty Grading System Contributing to a Soft Society

I’ve already accepted that this post may cause a handful of people to disagree with me as each individual has had different personal experiences with the physical education taught in our schools. I also realize that there is a vast number of incredible PE teachers out there who not only encouraged their students to be physically active, but influenced their views and understanding of fitness and health. The point has already been made many times and I don’t think you’re going to read anything new. I’m just ranting about my personal experience and views of physical education. I know this won’t start a revolution, as the public education system already has the parameters set in place, but hopefully we all can agree on some of the points I make.

The number one problem that I have with physical education is it’s grading system. It is neither valid nor reliable. Since when do we grade students on participation?

Statistics have shown that well over 90% of the student’s grade is based (or better said: judged) upon their participation. Other grading components include: effort, dressing out, and attitude. Why doesn’t the majority of the grade reflect on the student’s score on skills test (1 mile run time, maximal push ups, sit & reach measurements)? The only reality students receive on their physical fitness level is at the end of the year when they are placed within a percentile rank based on a national scale (The Presidential Fitness Award). But in the end, everyone is still “rewarded” with a certificate, even if they display poor performance.

So why does this happen?

It’s because we live in a sensitive society. The moment a PE teacher tells a student that he/she should be more active or tell them the reality of how overweight they are compared to students on a national scale, a law suit gets filed. Lazy and plump Johnny Anderson goes home and tells his mommy (who by the way is doing a horrible job at monitoring her child’s health). She becomes defensive about her parenting skills, feelings get hurt, and Coach Smith finds himself sitting before a school board deciding whether or not they should give him the boot.

Now I realize that everyone has different potential through “genetics”. There’s that athletic kid who’s dad has signed him up for every football season since he could crawl. He could sit on the couch playing nintendo for a month and pass the mile test with a breeze. Then you have those kids who do sports year around, play outside just about every day, and keep a considerably healthy diet…yet they struggle to stay under the maximal time.

How about those kids who don’t have any accountability at home for their physical activity? Maybe their parents have never signed them up for sports or served them a dinner that wasn’t picked up at a drive through…

But what we really need to consider is what is the objective of physical education? What are we trying to teach them? What skills and qualities do we expect them to acquire by the end of the year?

Achievement and success in the classroom will and never has been about showing up. And it is rare the the majority of a student’s grade will be reflected on whether or not they bring their pencil and paper. If a student hardly pays attention in class and doesn’t bring his books, yet he easily passes his tests, isn’t he meeting the objective? He clearly already knew, or learned on his own what he was expected to know by testing time. Grades should not be used for encouragement or to make the student content with where they stand. Why would a teacher give the same grade to a kid who got 90% of the questions right as the kid who got 45% of the questions right? Whether or not the kid had good math teachers in the previous years, if he got 45% of the questions right, then that is what he should get. Potential should not be a dictator.

So what are we teaching kids in physical education? Is the objective just to show up and participate?

We need to grade PE classes just like we do others and grade off of achievement, not effort. Grades are a measurement, not an evaluation of what we think of the person and their potential.

After all, when it comes down to the life quality of our children, is understanding how to do long division correctly any more important than being able to demonstrate some type of physical activity?

Lets all strive to do a better job at influencing our youth through fitness and health and no longer contribute to the softness and sensitivity of our society!

Published by Nick Knowles

Nick is a certified personal trainer through the National Strength & Conditioning Association who has worked with hundreds of individuals around the world and coached a wide variety of clients ranging from special forces, active duty, first responders, law enforcement, paraplegics, mixed martial artists, powerlifters, endurance athletes, large group classes, rock climbers, high school and collegiate athletes, youth teams, general population (weight loss), and clients with special needs. Education being at the forefront of his approach, he has been a guest speaker at corporate wellness events, college job fairs, and has also taken on a handful of interns who have found successful careers in the fitness industry. He is also a former NCAA division 1 wrestling and competitive powerlifter.

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