© 2013 Toni Yancey - All Rights Reserved                             Site Design / imagine Y

State Fitness Test Results Reveal Stubborn Plateau

Posted: 03/25/2011

By Cathy Kelly

SANTA CRUZ -- County schools on average placed slightly below statewide averages in physical fitness test results released Thursday by the state Department of Education, though some local schools surpassed the state averages.

The 2009-10 FITNESSGRAM tests, a mandatory program revamped in 2006, measures the fitness and strength of students in fifth, seventh and ninth grade. Students are tested in six areas -- aerobic capacity, body composition, abdominal strength, trunk extensor strength, upper body strength and flexibility.

The results show that, statewide, 28.7 percent of fifth-graders met the Healthy Fitness Zone requirements, 34.6 of seventh-graders and 38.5 percent of the ninth-graders.

In Santa Cruz County the scores were lower, with 26 percent of fifth-graders hitting the fitness marks, 25.4 percent of seventh-graders and 33.7 percent of ninth-graders.

Results for the 2008-09 school year were a bit better in the county, with 35.1 percent of seventh-graders making the grade and 40.5 percent of ninth-graders. The fifth-grade results showed no change.

Along with the results, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced a new strategy to boost the fitness of California's 6.2 million school children. The campaign would link schools with community leaders and athletes to foster new partnerships to encourage students to get more exercise at school and at home, he said.

Santa Cruz County's largest school district, Pajaro Valley Unified, had lower overall scores in all three grade levels compared to the county average.

In the Pajaro Valley Unified School District, where 3,991 students were tested, 22.2 percent of fifth-graders earned passing scores, 22.3 percent of seventh-graders and 30.4 percent of ninth-graders.

In Santa Cruz City Schools, where 1,454 students took the tests, 21.9 percent of fifth-graders met each goal, 35.5 percent of seventh-graders and 44.5 percent of ninth-graders. So, while the fifth-graders were off-target, seventh- and ninth-graders surpassed state averages.

Santa Cruz City Schools Superintendent Gary Bloom said district employees understand that good nutrition and physical fitness go hand in hand with academic success.

"We are pleased that our students have done fairly well on these assessments, but we also recognize that we must maintain our commitment to wellness," Bloom said.

In Pajaro Valley, fifth-graders scored slightly above those of the preceding year, yet fewer seventh- and ninth-graders met all six fitness criteria than in the past two years.

Superintendent Dorma Baker said she had yet to review the data. But she said the district has been working to encourage healthy lifestyles, particularly promoting good nutrition in programs such as Breakfast in the Classroom and the award-winning after-school program, Fitness for Life. She spoke of recent visit to Calabasas Elementary School during the breakfast program.

"I was pleasantly surprised to see the number of students choosing to eat an apple in the morning," Baker said. "We've been attacking it from that end, but those kind of changes are slow."

For some districts, the results were healthier.

In the San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District, more than half of the 611 students tested were able to demonstrate the necessary strength in all areas, and more than 75 percent did that in five areas.

Laurie Marcellin, the district's assistant superintendent of instruction, said the district employs physical education specialists and trained teachers who have designed programs to include fitness, sportsmanship and several different sports.

They also test several times per year to track students' progress and keep them working toward personal goals, Marcellin said.

"It's very structured and includes fitness and fun," she said. "But it's serious business. It really is education."

Torlakson said his fitness plan for state students will be co-chaired by Dr. Toni Yancey, former basketball great Bill Walton, former San Francisco 49ers tackle Bubba Paris and ultra marathoner Dean Karnazes.

"Nothing is more important than the health of our children, and today's results show that many of them need a helping hand to get fit and stay in shape," Torlakson said. "The Team California for Healthy Kids campaign will help students adopt the healthy habits that will help them succeed in the classroom today -- and help them stay healthy over a lifetime."

To reach the Healthy Fitness Zone, a ninth-grade male needs to run a mile within nine minutes, perform minimum 16 push-ups and 24 curl-ups.

Statewide, last year's results declined slightly, from 0.4 percent to 0.6 percent, compared to the year prior.

But in what state officials say is perhaps the most important indicator of physical fitness, 64 percent to 65 percent of the students tested where in the zone for aerobic capacity.

In another possibly encouraging sign, the students who were in fifth grade when the standards were revised in 2006 have shown steady improvement over similar students in the classes of 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012, state officials said.