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Do Physical Education Programs Hinder Academic Performance?

by AOSSM September 28, 2011

Written by David Geier MD, AOSSM Public Relations Chair

For a number of reasons, physical education programs in U.S. schools seem to be in a state of decline. In the current economic climate, government funding for education programs has decreased, so physical education programs have often been cut. Also, with schools needing to demonstrate success academically, teachers and administrators frequently worry about any activity that pulls students out of the classroom.

But do physical education classes really hinder a student's academic performance? It has been suggested that physically fit children are not only healthier, but they perform better on standardized academic tests.

A novel approach

Mitchell Elementary School, an underprivileged school in Charleston, South Carolina wanted to be proactive and find a way to maintain academic performance without sacrificing physical activity.Their school nurse, Glennis Randazzo, applied for grants that would fund education and equipment through the PE4Life program. The school partnered with physicians at the Medical University of South Carolina to study the success of the program. Dr. Carly Scahill, a pediatrics resident at MUSC and one of the study's lead authors, was also involved in the program. Prior to implementation of the new program, students underwent 40 minutes of physical education class per week. It increased to 40 minutes, five days per week under the new program, with the goal of combining physical activity and intellectual stimulation.

Stressing both physical and mental exercise

The younger children performed developmentally appropriate activities during the program, like riding scooters while being asked to trace shapes with their movement. Older children performed more active and intellectually challenging activities like practicing multiplication while climbing a rock wall. For example, if a student's left foot was on a "two" and left hand was on a "four," then he would reach his hand to number eight.

Academic results

Schools administer the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) test each fall. Prior to the new physical exercise program, only 55% of students achieved their spring test goals. After a year in the program, 68.5% of students met their goals.

Next steps

Increased time for physical activity doesn't have to mean less time to learn; it's just learning in a new format. So what is next? Do we wait and hope that more schools try it? Dr. Scahill wants to expand the scope of the study, matching two schools based on demographics and academic performance and seeing if a school that utilizes the program would outscore the ones that did not. More longitudinal data would also be helpful to determine if these programs apply to students at all levels.

What are your thoughts on the program? Can PE help improve test scores?

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Creative programming | Schools


10/2/2011 4:41:25 AM #

i believe physical education is important for good grades. PE classes have are just as beneficial to students as core math or science classes.

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michael whiting United States |

10/3/2011 7:51:58 PM #

I think PE is a vital part of academic's. When you exercise, you release endorphins. when you release endorphins you feel good. when you feel good you feel better about yourself. when you feel you can do something you can accomplish it. I also know that if it wasn't for weight training my senior year in high school I certainly would have missed a lot more days of school. because of weight training I was continually excited for the next day to come. Lets just say my grades were better too. from D's and C's to A's and B's.

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That guy United States |

10/10/2011 10:02:42 AM #

Last year on Spring break I traveled to Tampa, Florida with six other students on a mission’s trip. We spent a decent amount of our week in an elementary school where over 90% of the students receive free or reduced lunches – we read to students, raked leaves, graded papers, and encouraged stubborn or disciplined children to participate. Tampa does not charge tuition to students outside districts, so the families who can, send their children to “better” schools in the area. This elementary school struggles with parent involvement and heartening their teachers. The principal’s vision for the school is for each and every student to achieve his/her potential, and I look forward to going back this year to see where they are now. This post took me back to that week because each day we were there, at least one classroom was outside in the play area. I remember thinking, “These kids have plenty of time to play at home. They should be in the classroom during school…” I’ve always known exercise and play is important, but for some children, school is the only place they can learn and play at the same time. I’ll be sure to applaud the principal for this when I return in the spring!

Ehlepper United States |

10/26/2011 11:11:56 AM #

i think every1 should b active

keante United States |

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