California May Suspend Student Fitness Testing Over Bullying Concerns


Governor Gavin Newsom wants to suspend physical education testing for California students for three years due to concerns about bullying and possible discrimination against disabled and non-binary students.

The move comes after annual test results showed a growing percentage of pupils classified as “not healthy”.

HD Palmer, a spokesperson for the Department of Finance, said the state has received complaints that the current exam’s body mass index measurement discriminates against non-binary students. A measure calculated from weight and height, school BMI screenings require students to select either ‘male’ or ‘female’, he said.

Annual state fitness test reports since the 2014-15 school year show a steady decline in the proportion of students scoring “healthy,” according to research by The Associated Press. Student scores fell particularly in the category of the test that measures aerobic capacity, which can be tested with a one-mile run, for example. Other categories test flexibility and exercises like push-ups.

Over the past five years, the percentage of healthy fifth graders in the aerobic category has dropped by 3.3 percentage points. In grades seven and nine, the declines are 4.4 percentage points and 3.8 percentage points, respectively. At the same time, the percentage of students identified as “in need of improvement” and presenting a “health risk” increased: by 3.3 percentage points among fifth-grade students, by 4.4 for seventh-grade students and 3.8 for ninth graders.

The Ministry of Education did not immediately comment on these results.

While Newsom’s proposed fitness testing program is suspended, the state would consider whether the current test should be modified or redesigned, Palmer said.

Physical education classes, however, would remain a requirement for graduation.

The proposal, first reported by Politico, has been slipped into Newsom’s education budget bill for next year.

School districts across the country are using such tests, and the results can inform still-growing children of potential health issues, experts say. But data from these tests and BMI measurements should not be used to diagnose health risks, according to the Society of Health and Physical Educators.

“The issue of BMI screening plays a role in issues of body shame and bullying,” Palmer also wrote in an email.

Bodybuilder and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had several school fitness initiatives during his tenure. He said through a spokesperson that physical education lessons should be the top priority.

“Whether or not the state uses physical fitness testing, Governor Schwarzenegger believes the most important thing is that our students have access to daily physical education classes to promote a healthy and fit lifestyle,” said Daniel Ketchell, spokesperson for Schwarzenegger.

Ketchell agreed that the BMI projections are wrong. He said, for example, that the 6-foot-2, 240-pound Schwarzenegger would have been officially classified as obese when he won the Mr. Olympia top bodybuilder title in 1974.


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