A staple of both education and fitness, testing is a unique animal when it comes to teaching physical education. Many people have differing opinions on whether or not your physical ability should have any bearing on your grade. Regardless of whether or not you associate grades with physical results, though, testing can be a very useful tool in your fitness curriculum if done the right way.

Why?

As we have stated many times before, here at PLT4M we are firm believers in the power of competition. Competing with one’s self is the essence of testing. Seeing progress is an enormous motivator. Problem is, often, the greatest deterrent to effort is a lack of belief in one’s own ability at the start. Luckily, when it comes to fitness, the greatest strides are made at the beginning. Thus, when someone uncomfortable with physicality is coached well, they can see results immediately. Picture the athlete that fully believes they are incapable of doing a push up – with proper scaling options and coaching cues, he or she will be performing perfect reps in minutes. Such improvement in ability through scaling progressions, growing strength capacity, or physical motor through hard work is a wonderful incentive for further effort.

Just as important, keeping data and seeing hard proof of results is the ultimate reinforcement of healthy behavior. When students begin to associate effort with results, you have taught them the ultimate lesson: they are the master of their own bodies and long term health. That lesson is the whole reason we teach fitness in the first place.

How?

Many common physical education tools and/or approaches track student performance against “national standards”. Personally, we philosophically disagree with this approach towards student evaluation. Instead, we believe in measuring personal progress.

Imagine this: Student A has never done ANYTHING related to fitness in his or her life. Before your class, test results would place them in the lowest percentile across the board, essentially being told they are unhealthy and unable. Right off the bat, you’re likely to lose this student emotionally. You are reinforcing a negative perception of self potential. Even if you get Student A to work in class for 15 weeks, doing their best to master the movements, work hard and get better, the results in the post-test could still place them in a low percentile compared to the national “standard”. What good is this? The lesson internalized here is that even with hard work, they will be at the bottom. The opposite is equally true. If you have another student who begins at the top of all tests, he or she will have little motivation to improve. They will believe that there is no need to work, they have already reached their potential. Both scenarios work against our overall mission of motivation and improvement.

What we need to recognize, and celebrate, is that any student is a far cry from where he started. They have moved up scaling progressions, maybe even getting their first strict movements. They have increased physical capacity, and seen real progress. They put in the effort and were rewarded by becoming fitter. We should recognize this improvement. Such will motivate them to continue to strive for progress going forward. In our fitness programs here at PLT4M, we test often, and measure personal progress through absolute values and percentage changes depending on the activity and curriculum. We want to show students their capacity for change.

Whether or not you include test results in your grading is up to you. But, we strongly recommend testing as a measure for students to better see the correlation between work and progress. It’s not just about where you are now, but how far you have come.