About two-thirds of Orange County fifth-graders failed a statewide fitness test, mirroring results from students across the state and triggering a new program to improve children’s health, California’s schools chief announced today.
“Nothing is more important than the health of our children, and today’s results show that many of them need a helping hand to get fit and stay in shape,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said at a news conference in Pasadena.
Orange County students fared slightly better than the state average with 34.9 percent of fifth-graders, 43.7 percent of seventh-graders and 45.7 percent of ninth-graders succeeding in all six criteria. Statewide, the success rate was 28.7 percent for fifth-graders, 34.6 percent for seventh-graders and 38.5 percent for ninth-graders.
“While it’s not what we like to see, there has been upward movement,” said Chris Corliss, coordinator for physical and health education and athletics for the Orange County Department of Education. “Almost all of our school districts are outpacing other Southern California counties, and this is a trend we have seen in the last three years.”
More affluent school districts tend to have higher scores because children in those communities tend to have more access to equipment and programs after school, Corliss said.
Unfortunately, almost 90 percent of schools in Southern California do not have physical education teachers, and as the budget crisis worsens, more physical education programs are being cut, added Corliss. In Orange County, only six school districts including Los Alamitos and Newport-Mesa Unified still have physical education specialists in elementary schools.
Fitness test scores among Los Alamitos seventh- and ninth-grade students are significantly higher than in most districts. That may reflect the results of the district’s investment in a program to train teachers in physical education and outfit their classrooms with equipment to go along with the training, Corliss said.
Because budget woes aren’t likely to improve in the short term, the county will continue a trend of partnering with businesses and community groups to create opportunities before, during and after school for kids to exercise, added Corliss.
The results for fifth-graders statewide dropped slightly from last year’s test while the seventh- and ninth-graders improved slightly this year. Still, the results were enough to prompt plans to begin a campaign called Team California for
Healthy Kids to “help students adopt the health habits that will help them
succeed in the classroom today—and help them stay healthy over a lifetime,” Torlakson announced.
About 1.32 million students across California took the Fitnessgram test, which measures students’ health in aerobic capacity, body composition, abdominal strength, a trunk-extensor exercise, upper body strength and flexibility.
According to the state Department of Education, a healthy score requires a ninth-grade male to run a mile within nine minutes and perform at least 16 pushups and 24 curl-ups.
Torlakson said the new fitness campaign would emphasize partnerships between schools, community leaders and athletes to get students to exercise more at home and at school.
Orange County students fared better at all grade levels than students in Los Angeles County, where 26.7 percent of fifth-graders scored in the healthy range in all six categories, along with 31.9 percent of seventh-graders and 36 percent of ninth-graders.
The test results at districts within Orange County varied.
Percentage of students who met all six fitness criteria by school district:School District 5th grade 7th grade 9th grade Capistrano 41.4 54.6 54.7 Fountain Valley 43.2 45.3 NA Laguna Beach 46.2 33.2 24.3 Los Alamitos 48.2 73.6 64 Newport-Mesa 34.6 32.6 48.7 Saddleback Valley 47.7 53.3 59.3
City News Service contributed to this report.