Friday, July 20, 2007

New Physical Education Legislation in California

Legislation that went into effect this month is meant to shore up physical education in California. As of July 1, students have to pass the state fitness test, which is administered in grades five, seven and nine, in order to be eligible for an exemption from physical education in high school. Previously, high school physical education exemptions were considered routine for grades 11 & 12.

All high school students are required to take two years of physical education to be eligible for graduation unless they get an exemption. The state Department of Education doesn't keep data on how many students receive exemptions, but officials say that many do. Many. So until now, kids could fail the fitness test in middle school, then still be exempt out of gym class in high school.

State Sen. Tom Torlakson (D-Antioch), a former high school track coach and sponsor of the new mandate, says it should function as a reality check for students and schools. But the best intentions of legislators are often no match for bureaucratic loopholes. Because there is no state statute defining what it means to "pass" the test, school districts define it for themselves.

Which is why Torlakson is sponsoring additional legislation that would not only provide funding for physical education teachers to craft classes that better engage students, but would define passing as meeting the minimum standards on five of six parts of the test. This would result in trustworthy test scores and a better assessment of the health of California's children.