Adding more fuel to arguments that California children need to ditch the TV in favor of more athletic pursuits, a report released Wednesday shows that fewer than one-third of students meet state fitness goals.
"Today's results are clear," said State Superintendent Tom Torlakson in a news release. "When only 31 percent of children are physically fit, that's a public health challenge we can't wait to address."
The state tests students in grades 5, 7 and 9 in six areas: aerobic capacity, abdominal strength, upper body strength, trunk strength, flexibility and body fat composition. The goal is for students to meet fitness standards in all six areas to prevent against diseases that can result from inactivity.
Scores for fifth-graders dropped from 29 percent reaching the goal in 2010 to 25.2 percent in 2011. Seventh-grade scores dropped from 35 percent in 2010 to 32 percent, while ninth-grade scores fell from 38.7 percent to 36.8 percent meeting goals in all categories.
To meet aerobic goals, a 5-foot-6-inch, 150-pound ninth-grade boy must run a mile within nine minutes, do at least 16 push-ups and 24 sit-ups. In the past, the state has divided results into two categories: reaching the "healthy fitness zone" or not reaching it.
This year, the state added a new category for those who scored poorly in aerobic capacity and body composition: "Needs improvement -- high risk." About 34 percent of fifth-graders, 30 percent of seventh-graders
Fitness results varied in Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. Fifth- and ninth-graders scored above statewide averages for meeting goals in all six areas in the East Bay, while seventh-graders scored just below the state average, with about 31 percent meeting all six goals. In Santa Clara County, fifth-graders scored slightly below the state average, with 24.7 meeting the goals, while seventh- and ninth-graders surpassed the state average. San Mateo County fifth- and seventh-graders beat the state averages, but the ninth-graders scored slightly lower, with about 32 percent meeting the goals.
Santa Clara County ninth-graders outperformed students in all other grade levels among the four counties, with 42.7 percent achieving fitness goals in the six categories. The difference was most pronounced in aerobic capacity at all levels, with 75.1 percent of ninth-graders rated fit, compared to 61.7 percent statewide and less than 67 percent in each of the other three counties.
The tests show what every athlete knows: Training pays off.
In the East Side Union High School District in San Jose, which runs its physical education program mindful of the state's six fitness components, ninth-graders scored nearly 20 percentage points higher in aerobics than their statewide counterparts. Throughout the year at East Side's high schools, PE students are required to perform some vigorous activity daily, coordinator Kristine Hulse said.
As a result, East Side students scored nearly the best in the county on the aerobic portion, with 82.1 percent meeting the requirements.
Similarly, students at Foothill Middle School in Walnut Creek far surpassed the state and county averages, with 47.3 percent meeting all six fitness goals and 76.3 percent scoring fit in aerobics compared to 63 percent statewide and 67 percent in Contra Costa County.
Chris deClercq, chairman of the school's PE department, said students value fitness because it helps them do well in sports. Although the state is pushing fitness goals, deClercq said education funding cuts are sending the message that fitness may not be as important as other subjects.
The Mt. Diablo school district, along with many others, has cut funding for high school sports, he said.
Staff writer Sharon Noguchi contributed to this report.