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What Kind of Fitness Test For K-12 Students?


Fitness testing aims to motivate students to create personal health and physical activity goals. Students who recognize their abilities and how they have improved over time become empowered lifelong learners who adopt healthy lifestyle practices.

However, the current approach for interpreting and communicating results can be complex and unclear for both students and teachers. With some simple steps taken by all involved, this process can become less daunting and more meaningful for all parties involved.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

BMI (body mass index) measures the relative distribution of fat in the body and is linked with increased risks for hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality. Although not directly a measure of fitness, high BMI has been associated with poorer results on various physical fitness tests such as the sit-and-reach test (Batrath et al. 2002), push-up/curl-up tests (Kim et al. 2005) and the PACER test (Beets & Pitetti 2004).

OSWP oversees NYC’s annual FITNESSGRAM assessment, which encompasses body composition testing through skin folds or bioelectrical impedance, muscular endurance testing (pull-ups and push-ups), and flexibility testing (sit and reach test). Letters sent by all four vendors listed in the CDE guide contain results for all six assessments taken, along with ratings based on Cooper Institute criterion-referenced Healthy Fitness Zone standards.

OSWP also offers BMI results directly to districts for their use and provides a Trendbook that details obesity trends overall and by sociodemographic metrics since 2006/07. During phone interviews conducted with school district administrators between 2008 and 2009, we asked whether they notified parents about students’ BMI or body composition test results. Chi-squared tests and logistic regression analyses were employed to ascertain if responding to an interview, method of notification, or demographic characteristics such as district type or urbanicity predicted whether or not parents would be informed.

Aerobic Capacity

Aerobic capacity scores on the PACER test are combined with muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition scores to determine whether a student falls into the Healthy Fitness Zone. Aerobic capacity scores are estimated as their VO2 max rate; this measures how quickly their respiratory, cardiovascular, and muscular systems can absorb and utilize oxygen during physical activity. Higher aerobic capacities reduce the risks of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, and obesity, as well as reduced chances of cardiovascular diseases like atherosclerosis.

PACER is an eight-station multistage assessment that starts with students running one lap around a track or gym mats in response to beep sounds, becoming increasingly more challenging with each beep sound heard. A score is recorded each time one hears a beep sound; once two consecutive beeps go unheard, the test is complete.

An alternative to the PACER test is a one-mile run, which provides an approximate estimate of one’s VO2 max. However, calculating this score accurately requires giving one’s height and weight details – with higher scores signifying greater aerobic capacity and reduced risks for heart disease, diabetes, or metabolic syndrome.

Muscular Endurance

Muscular endurance refers to the muscles’ ability to exert force against resistance over an extended period. A critical element in any fitness program, muscular endurance can easily be measured using standard tests like PACER or the curl-up test.

Physical education programs that incorporate muscular endurance exercises help students meet the requirements of SHAPE America Standards 3 and 4 for leading a healthier lifestyle and fostering lifelong fitness habits. This also promotes a love of physical fitness among our youth.

Teachers engaging in muscular endurance activities must begin each session with a warm-up to prepare muscles and reduce injury risk but must avoid overstimulating students by starting with intense exercises right away; instead, they should gradually increase intensity as students’ endurance improves.

To motivate students, it’s essential that a variety of physical endurance activities – including both pair and group challenges – be made available so they can see the results of their efforts and feel satisfied by them. In addition, making the activities fun allows students to see results for their efforts and remain motivated in their work.

Muscular Strength

One standard method of assessing muscular strength is the one-repetition maximum (1RM) test, in which participants attempt to lift as much weight as possible during an exercise. An alternative measure of muscular strength is the rate of force development (RFD), which measures how quickly muscles generate peak contraction forces; RFD can be tracked with devices like GymAware RS or GymAware FLEX that measure velocity loss during strength tests to indicate muscular power.

Active children typically display higher cardiorespiratory and musculoskeletal fitness levels than their inactive peers, which often persist into adulthood (Boreham & Riddoch, 2001). Unfortunately, lack of interest or access to physical activity is also an obstacle that stands in the way of long-term physical health and well-being.

Fitness testing not only assesses health-related fitness but can also serve to motivate students and inspire them to participate in sports and other physically active activities throughout their lives. It is essential to keep in mind, however, that many factors beyond school can impact a child’s ability and willingness to be physically active outside the school environment, such as heredity, caloric intake, and socioeconomic status.


There are various flexibility tests available to teachers for evaluating student fitness levels. Most notably, sit and reach tests, shoulder stretch tests, and trunk lift tests are commonly utilized to measure hamstring, thigh, and chest extensor flexibility, respectively. Unfortunately, linking flexibility to health outcomes remains challenging.

Students who participate in fitness testing may form positive attitudes toward physical activity that will influence their willingness to remain physically active into adulthood. Furthermore, fitness testing often serves to encourage participation in sports programs while potentially helping identify high-potential athletes.

Fitness testing should be implemented correctly so students can see their efforts and accomplishments through improved scores on individual tests or overall FITNESSGRAM results. It is crucial that testing is administered fairly so students do not compete against each other during testing; results will be shared among classmates. Furthermore, standardizing training for school staff about SB-PFT as a health indicator and improving teachers’ abilities to deliver accurate fitness testing will prove extremely valuable.