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Governors Express Interest in Adding Cooper's Fitnessgram

Austin, TX — More states may join Texas in mandating that schoolchildren pass physical fitness tests. After Texas released last month the results of its fitness tests on 2.6 million children in the state, governors in at least 15 states expressed interest in implementing a similar program in their states, according to Dr. Kenneth Cooper, founder of the Cooper Institute, Dallas. The states include South Carolina, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana and Hawaii, Cooper says.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry is pledging his support to get additional funding to continue analyzing the results and continue the testing in his state. He also wants to encourage other states to mandate the test.

“He wants me to help prepare a letter to all the governors and tell them what we're doing in Texas,” Cooper says.

Texas students become progressively less fit as they age, according to the Fitnessgram test, which was created by The Cooper Institute of Dallas and was given to Texas children in grades 3-12 this spring. The test measured body composition, aerobic capacity, strength, endurance and flexibility. The test was mandated by the Texas legislature but was not funded by the legislature. Instead, the $2.5 million needed for the tests came from private donations gathered by Cooper.

Preliminary results show that about 32 percent of third-grade girls and almost 28 percent of third-grade boys reached the Health Fitness Zone, which means they achieved a certain level on six tests with performance targets tied to a student's age and gender. The tests include activities such as a one-mile run, curl-ups, push-ups, trunk lift, shoulder stretches and a skin-fold test.

By seventh grade, 21 percent of the girls and 17 percent of the boys met this achievement level. By 12th grade, 8 percent of the girls and about 9 percent of the boys met the health standards in all six tests.

The declining fitness levels correspond with the decreasing emphasis on physical education in upper grades, according to Cooper.

“I hope these results shock the state into reality and into action,” Cooper says. “We must immunize children against obesity while in elementary schools so that as they age, they are more likely to stay healthy and fit. By the time students graduate, they should be ready mentally and physically to achieve their dreams.”

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) recently released district-by-district results from the Fitnessgram tests and compared those results with the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test results, which measure academic performance. The districts that performed the best on the TAKS in 2006-2007 tended to perform the best on the Fitnessgram test, according to the Galveston Daily News. The districts where less than half the students passed the TAKS test in 2006-2007 had higher numbers of students who could not meet the fitness standards, the newspaper reported.

In addition, children in high poverty levels have poorer fitness.

The tests were administered by teachers who completed the required training. Although this was a mandatory test for Texas school districts, nearly one million students did not take the tests, and some school districts did not turn in any results, The Dallas Morning News reported.

Several Dallas-area districts tested a fraction of their 12th-graders, and some students said they were allowed to turn in their own results, the newspaper reported. Other parents said that their children were told to stop at a certain point in some of the tests when they could have gone farther.

TEA officials are working on new training guidelines to ensure more uniform testing procedures, Marissa Rathbone, director of school health for the TEA, told the newspaper. The Cooper Institute will let state officials handle compliance concerns, spokeswoman Amy George told the newspaper.

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