Less Than a Third of California Students Pass P.E. Exam

California State Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, this week announced the results of a statewide fitness test – whereby less than a third of all California students passed all six parts of the physical assessment, writes Teresa Watanabe at the Los Angeles Times.

Torlakson also announced a new campaign that will use celebrity athletes to visit schools to urge students to drink more water, eat more fruits and vegetables and increase their exercise.

“When only 31% of children are physically fit, that’s a public health challenge we can’t wait to address,” Torlakson said in a statement.

The results for the 1.34 million students show that only about 25% of fifth-graders passed all six sections of the assessment; while 32% of seventh-graders and 36.8% of ninth-graders passed.

Linda Hooper, a state education department consultant, accounts the poor scores in large part to budget cuts that have pared back physical education and sports programs across the state.

“With the budget crisis, P.E. and athletics have become less important,” she said.

Chad Fenwick, a district physical education advisor, says that the district annually receives a state grant to send a credentialed physical education teacher to as many as 60 elementary schools to work with students. And although the state now allows districts to use that money to meet other needs, L.A. Unified has kept its physical education program, he said.

But Fenwick said budget cuts in the last two years have hurt high school physical education programs:

“Class sizes are up pretty dramatically, and it’s another thing that worries us,” he said.

Three quarters of the 1,600 members of the California State PTA said their school’s physical education and sports programs had been eliminated or reduced.

But Torlakson’s new campaign, Team California for Healthy Kids — Initiatives & Programs, is set to inspire schools to apply for grants for salad bars, form partnerships with farmers markets, integrate physical activity into instruction and other activities.

The 2011 Physical Fitness Testing results have been published by the California Department of Education.

This comes as a new study in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine finds that almost three quarters of parents of heavy kids say their doctors don’t always tell them their children are overweight, writes Jeannine Stein at the Los Angeles Times.

From 1999 to 2008, 4,985 parents of children age 2 to 15 who had a body mass index in the 85th percentile or higher were asked if they had ever been told by a physician or health professional that their child was overweight – with only 22.4% admitting that they had.

Lead author and associate professor in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, Dr. Eliana Perrin said:

“As health care providers, it’s our job to screen for overweight and obesity and communicate those screening results in sensitive ways, and we are clearly either not doing it or not doing it in a way that families can hear or remember.

“While we’ve done better in recent years, clearly there’s more work to be done.”