Aerobic fitness predicts standardized test scores

July 1, 2010

An investigation among nearly 2,000 ethnically diverse children in California schools found consistent positive associations between ærobic fitness and standardized test scores.

An investigation among nearly 2,000 ethnically diverse children in California schools found consistent positive associations between aerobic fitness and standardized test scores as well as consistent inverse associations between body mass index (BMI)-for-age and these scores.

Investigators collected aerobic fitness, body weight, and student demographic data from 10 elementary schools, 2 middle schools, and 2 high schools. In California, fitness is measured by a comprehensive battery of physical fitness assessments, including a mile run/walk to test aerobic fitness. All students in the 5th, 7th, and 9th grades (the grades represented in the study sample) are assessed annually.

The aerobic fitness level of 65% of students in the sample was below recommended age-specific, sex-specific standards for mile time performance. In addition, 64% of study participants had slower mile times than the norms recommended by the state. African-American students were less likely to achieve California fitness standards than Asian-American and non-Hispanic white students. As for weight, the combined prevalence of overweight and obese (BMI ≥85th percentile) was 31.8% for boys and 27.7% for girls. African-American and Hispanic students were more likely to be classified as overweight or obese than Asian or non-Hispanic white students.

Commentary

Testing mandated by No Child Left Behind has caused educators to focus on reading and math skills, often at the expense of other school activities. This shift concerns parents and child advocates who promote the value of structured physical education and unstructured time for play in the school schedule. Indeed, in the school district studied, two-thirds of the children were unable to pass the aerobic fitness standard set by the state of California. This article offers common ground for both camps. Allotting time and funding for gym, recess, and after-school activities may improve academic achievement while increasing student fitness and addressing childhood obesity. -MB