Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Study Links Fitness To Academic, Behavioral Improvement In Texas Students

“Texas students who are physically fit are more likely to do well on achievement tests and less likely to have disciplinary problems, according to a study released Monday by the Texas Education Agency. Dr. Kenneth Cooper of the Cooper Institute of Dallas released study results that showed how fitness affects academic performance, attendance and discipline in Texas schools. Based on annual physical fitness assessments of more than 2.4 million students in the public schools, the study found that increased exercise enhances the ability to learn, as evidenced by the higher scores of physically fit children on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. Schools with a higher percentage of students in shape also benefited, according to the study, earning better performance ratings from the state. And attendance rates were higher for students who were physically fit. Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, were among those present as the study was unveiled. Nelson is sponsoring legislation this year to increase physical education requirements for Texas students in middle school. Nelson, who wrote the 2007 measure that required annual fitness assessments, said there is more work to do to combat obesity and get children in shape, including more time in PE. A measure she has written this year would require two additional semesters in middle school, for a total of six. ‘We need to move forward on this issue as if lives depend on it – because they do,” she said. But groups representing fine arts teachers are lining up against the legislation, contending it would further erode students' ability to take music and fine arts classes. ‘More and more requirements have crowded out the opportunity for students and schools to fit music and fine arts into their schedules,’ said Robert Floyd of the Texas Coalition for Quality Arts Education. He also criticized the growing practice of pulling students out of fine arts class to cram for the TAKS test – a practice he called ‘educational child abuse.’ The fitness study released by the TEA was based on the Fitnessgram tests – developed by the Cooper Institute of Dallas – given to students at 6,532 Texas schools in the 2007-08 school year. The assessments measured students in grades three through 12 in five areas – body composition, aerobic capacity, muscular strength, endurance and flexibility. The results determined whether a student was in a "healthy fitness zone" for their age and gender. The study found that fitness levels dropped with each passing grade level. Elementary-age children performed the best while high school students had the lowest percentage of students who were deemed physically fit. For example, about 78 percent of fourth-graders were in the healthy fitness zone, while only 20 percent of high school seniors were in the zone. Students will undergo a second round of Fitnessgram testing this spring.”

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