State fitness test leaves student-athletes unable to pass

Every spring, the Physical Fitness Test is issued to all freshmen by the state of California to determine whether they pass their Physical Education class. However, some Carmel High students question whether the test truly deciphers the health of every individual.

There are six parts to the Physical Fitness Test, according to CHS test administrator and P.E. teacher Debbie French. There is the mile—officially referred to as the Vo2 Max—pushups, sit-and-reach, sit-ups, trunk lift and body mass index. Students are capable of failing one section and still passing the test, except for the mile.

“I didn’t pass the BMI or the mile,” sophomore Juliana Cardinale says. “I play travel softball outside of school, I play golf and softball for the school, and I played basketball last year. The BMI has been proven to be inaccurate, and it is not a good way to measure health.”

But some students have found alternative ways to get the Physical Education requirements to graduate, mostly through enrolling in another “gym credit” class at CHS, such as Yoga, Weight Training or Dance. Taking another gym credit must serve as an all-year elective for the student, typically the year after the student fails to pass the test.

Cardinale herself enrolled in a summer course that she says she discussed with her counselor and believed would give her the credits needed to pass Physical Education. Once she returned to school after spending three hours at the gym weekly, that program was found inapplicable.

In the classroom Carmel High health teacher Leigh Cambra dedicates multiple weeks of her course to teaching students about nutrition and physical health.

“Each student must decide what is best for them and their body,” Cambra recalls. “Watching your sugar intake or getting exercise is healthy, but too much can be harsh on the body.”

Current Harvard University football player and 2016 CHS grad John Stivers received more than 15 athletic recognition awards and achievements during his decorated four years of high school. However, Stivers was unable to pass the state’s Physical Fitness Test, the same one administered to students now. Although Stivers was on both the varsity basketball and football teams for CHS as a freshman, he was unable to pass the BMI and the sit-and-reach sections.

“I think the legitimacy of the fitness test varies for person,” Stivers recalls. “The body composition was not accurate for me on the first test.”

He and his parents were able to go through the administration to the Physical Education department and receive a “pinch test,” a supposedly more accurate version of the body mass index, which he passed.

“BMI only goes by your height and your weight. It doesn’t pay attention to what percent body fat you have, how muscular you are,” Cambra comments on what she tells her students. “The entire point of the BMI was to survey large groups of people. There are people that are perfectly healthy and amazing athletes that can’t pass it because of genetics, or maybe they even lift a lot of weights and are very muscular.”

French says she believes that those that don’t pass the BMI are often at a higher risk for heart disease and that it is important to know at a young age.

“I understand that there are different body types, but a lot of times the body fat percentage can be worked on,” French comments. “A lot of times, it depends on your diet. If you change your diet, you’re going to lose body fat.”

The Vo2 Max, the only section of the fitness test that students are required to pass, is also tied into the body mass index. The mile time, height, weight, age and gender are all calculated into a computer and the solution is the Vo2 Max, according to French.

During the 2016-2017 school year, another freshman on a varsity team, Ava Weiman, was also unable to pass the PFT. Weiman participated in varsity water polo throughout the fall season, but when the test was administered, she failed the Vo2 Max.

“I think the fitness test is more geared towards people who do sports that involve running, instead of swimming,” Weiman comments.

Over the past few school years, about 10 percent of freshmen could only complete four out of the six requirements, and another 24-32 percent were only able to pass five out of six, Carmel High School’s Accountability Report Card shows. That 24-32 percent doesn’t necessarily mean the students passed, if the one requirement they didn’t meet was the mile.

The test standards and requirements have not been altered since the 2007-2008 school year, says French, who notes that all freshmen are required to take the state fitness test in the spring, usually beginning the process in March.