California wants to end school fitness tests over concerns about non-binary students

California Governor Gavin Newsom wants to stop mandatory physical fitness tests for students in the state over fears they they could get bullied.

The Democrat governor is proposing suspending the current state law that requires California schools to give all fifth, seventh and ninth graders the test after some districts complained about discrimination.

(Image: KPIX screenshot)

Students may be free from push-ups, curl-ups and aerobic activity, as well as a measure of body mass index that are tracked in the physical exam, for the next three years if the proposal, buried in Newsom’s education budget bill for next year, is passed, Politico reported.

The state received complaints about the test alleging that students with disabilities and non-binary students were being discriminated against as the Body Mass Index screening in the exam requires students to select “male” or “female,” according to H.D. Palmer, a spokesperson for Newsom’s Department of Finance.

“Dispelling myths, breaking down stereotypes and improving school climate is one way California is working to keep all students safe and healthy, consistent with the Governor’s commitment to a California that respects all students,” Palmer said.

“Given the body of research on the impacts of bullying on transgender and special education students, during this period of suspension, it’s important to take this pause and determine whether the current test can be modified or whether a new assessment should be developed,” he added.

California’s annual reports of the fitness test showed a drop in the number of students that were scored healthy since the 2014-2015 school year.

The Los Angeles Times reported:

In the last five years, the percentage of fifth graders scoring healthy in the aerobic category has dropped by 3.3 percentage points. In seventh and ninth grades, the drops are 4.4 percentage points and 3.8 percentage points, respectively. Meanwhile, the percentage of students identified as “needing improvement” and having a “health risk” went up: by 3.3 percentage points among fifth graders, 4.4 for seventh graders and 3.8 among ninth graders.

 

Newsom’s proposal tasks the California Department of Education with research during the three-year suspension of the test.

“During the period of suspension, the department shall consult with experts and other stakeholders, including but not limited to, individuals with expertise in fitness, adaptive physical education, gender identity, and students with disabilities, in order to provide recommendations regarding the purpose and administration of the physical performance test,” the proposal in Sec. 27 read.

“It’s simply important that kids feel seen by the school that they go to,” Joel Baum, senior director for professional development at Gender Spectrum, told CNN. “By recognizing non-binary people and using the right pronouns, that’s a huge acknowledgment of someone’s reality and experience, and it’s affirming.”

But in a study performed last year, Louisiana State University researcher Kelly Simonton reported on the effectiveness of school fitness tests and how they did not really impact student attitudes.

“Our results show that extreme views on this controversial subject may be unfounded, since fitness tests neither put students off P.E. nor encourage a positive outlook on participation,” Simonton said in the report. “What’s more, school fitness tests are rarely used to educate students about fitness and they’re often implemented poorly, so we cannot help but think that class time would be better spent [on] equipping students with knowledge and skills that more closely support the P.E. curriculum.”

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had a decidedly different stance on physical fitness when he was in charge. The former bodybuilder was the chair of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports during the George H.W. Bush administration.

“Whether the state uses fitness tests or not, Gov. Schwarzenegger believes that the most important thing is that our students have access to daily physical education classes to promote a healthy and fit lifestyle,” Schwarzenegger spokesman Daniel Ketchell said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

He also acknowledged the flaws in BMI screenings, noting that Schwarzenegger, at 6-foot-2-inches and 240 pounds, would be considered by the test to be obese when he won the bodybuilding title of Mr. Olympia in 1974.

In a separate change affecting California schools this year, Newsom signed a bill that goes into effect in July making it illegal for schools to suspend disruptive students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

The physical fitness tests have been required in California since 1996, but the temporary suspension will reportedly not affect students’ physical education which would still be a graduation requirement.

“The pause in administering tests won’t affect the amount or level of (physical education) that kids receive from their school,” Palmer said.

Newsom’s proposal on halting the exams sparked plenty of commentary on Twitter where the idea was slammed for pandering to feelings and triggered liberals at a cost to young children’s future health.

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Frieda Powers

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