Appropriate & Inappropriate Uses of Fitness Tests in School Settings – Brendan O’Keeffe

Let’s all gather round and guess Johnny’s weight…

I spoke in a previous blog about the divisive, often vociferous, nature of the debate that surrounds fitness testing in physical education. I put forward that, provided it was integrated as part of broader health related fitness unit and in a pedagogically sound manner, testing absolutely has a place in physical education. The sensationalist language that sometimes dominates the debate is not helpful. However, rather than digging deeper in to this rabbit hole, this blog will focus on some  practical examples of appropriate and inappropriate uses of fitness testing in a Physical Education context.

Appropriate uses  

  • Testing needs to have a strong educational focus (students need to know the purpose of doing a test).
  • Allow students to practice the tests and understand the purpose of them prior to testing day.
  • Create student profiles to facilitate recording results, reflecting on them and setting S.M.A.R.T goals.
  • A multi-station, peer-assessed, circuit format is recommended – have the sports hall set up before they arrive.
  • Use informative, educational and graphic displays of how to perform the tests.
  • Where appropriate, don’t limit the number of trials a student completes, allow them to try as many times as possible, recording their best score.
  • Utilise the services of volunteers’ e.g. senior cycle student to assist with set up and delivery.
  • Challenge students on their understanding of the components of HRPF and performance related fitness. E.g. Kahoot quiz.
  • Have music playing in the background.
  • Use criterion referenced health zone standards rather than comparing students to each other. Self-improvement should be the focus.
  • Display individual best scores per year group (e.g. top 3 students) for appropriate tests to motivate high achievers for each component.
  • Provide practical feedback to students & their parents on their results.

Inappropriate uses

  • Announcing or publicly displaying all students’ results.
  • Implement tests in isolation or as a standalone part of the curriculum.
  • Compare individual students results against their peers or year group averages.
  • Grade students on their performance.
  • Use students results as a reflection of the success or otherwise of your PE programme.
  • Use test results as indicators of overall physical education program quality and/or teacher effectiveness.

To conclude, the above suggestions come at an important time given the prominence of HRPF in recent curricular developments at both junior cycle (short course , strand 1, p. 11) and senior cycle (Leaving Certificate Specification,  strand 1, topic 2, p.20). As stated by Cale and colleagues (2014) if appropriately employed, subjected to informed critique, educational and incorporated as just one component of a broad, balanced and holistic programme, then there is no reason why monitoring cannot make a valuable contribution to the physical education curriculum and play a positive role in supporting healthy lifestyles and physical activity.

Brendan O'Keeffe
Brendan O’ Keeffe is a postgraduate student in the department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences. Brendan can be contacted at:    View Brendan’s profile here and on twitter at @BrendanOK 

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