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Weak Showing : Tests Reveal That Many California Fifth-Graders Can't Do Even One Pullup


MONTEBELLO — A state report on the physical fitness of schoolchildren revealed that students in the Montebello Unified School District generally are in worse shape than most students statewide, who are in such poor condition they cannot meet the nation's lowest acceptable standards for physical fitness.

Seventy percent of Montebello fifth-graders who were tested could not do even one pullup, which is the minimum fitness requirement for upper-body strength among 10-year-olds set by the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. Statewide, only 40% of fifth-graders were able to do one pullup.

"We are not talking about a standard that is hard to attain," said Bonnie Mohnsen, the district's health and fitness coordinator. "We are talking about minimum standards. We can't say we are doing well until 100% of our students meet the requirements."

Last spring, nearly 800,000 fifth-, seventh- and ninth-graders throughout the state were tested in physical fitness for the first time in the California Assessment Program, an annual test of academic skills among schoolchildren. Students, tested for cardiovascular endurance, upper-body strength, abdominal endurance and flexibility, were to run a mile, do pullups, bent-knee sit-ups and sit and reach their toes. There was also an optional test used to compute body fat.

Statewide, only 15% of fifth-graders, 20% of seventh-graders and 26% of ninth-graders met at least four of the five minimum fitness standards, which qualified them as physically fit. In the Montebello district, where 97% of the fifth-graders, 94% of the seventh-graders and 72% of the ninth-graders were tested, only 8% of the fifth-graders, 19% of the seventh-graders and 33% of the ninth-graders were able to meet the same requirements.

Except in three instances--the seventh-grade "sit and reach," the ninth-grade "sit and reach" and ninth-grade test for acceptable levels of body fat--students in the district scored below both county and state averages.

District officials knew they had a problem with students who were overweight, weak and lacked endurance, Mohnsen said. The results of a 3 1/2-year study completed this summer proved it. Yet, Mohnsen said, officials figured their students were no worse off than other students across the nation who have fallen victim to television and well-worn sofas.

"We were surprised," Mohnsen said. "There was no solid evidence to base our feelings on, but we thought this district would do better than average in the county and state."

Mohnsen said part of the reason almost all of the intermediate schools in the Montebello district performed so poorly is obvious. With the exception of Macy Intermediate, none have physical education specialists on campus. Macy's students consistently outdid their classmates in the district, county and state.

At other intermediate schools, most students are taught P.E. by teachers who do not have teaching credentials in physical education.

Among high school students, Bell Gardens High students scored much better on all five test components than their peers at Montebello and Schurr High, the results showed. Bell Gardens High, Mohnsen noted, is the only high school with a P.E. class that uses a textbook to teach good health concepts.

The absence of such classes and the lack of P.E. specialists is what hurts the students of Montebello Unified School District the most, Mohnsen said.

"There needs to be an emphasis on physical fitness which has not been placed here before," Mohnsen said.

District officials are attempting to do just that. Bolstered by the grim results of the 3 1/2-year study, and Mohnsen's experience in health and nutrition, fifth-, seventh- and ninth-graders were tested last month in preparation for next spring's CAP physical fitness test. This way, Mohnsen said, students can become more aware of their health and learn to set fitness goals.

Because a written component on physical fitness will be added to the CAP test in 1990, Mohnsen also is instructing teachers to teach health concepts and rules of physical fitness. For example, students will learn how long they need to exercise before they are improving their heart and lungs, what a pulse is and how to measure it.


In the Montebello Unified School District, fitness tests were administered to 97% of the fifth-graders and 94% of the seventh-graders at six intermediate schools, which include grades five through eight, and to 72% of the ninth-graders in three high schools.

The results are expressed in percentages of students able to meet the minimum fitness standards, which vary for each exercise, age group and gender.

District County State Average % Average % Average % FIFTH-GRADE SCORES Sit-Reach 60 63 65 Sit-Ups 33 38 44 Pullups 30 40 40 Skinfold 42 55 58 Mile Run 35 47 49 SEVENTH-GRADE SCORES Sit-Reach 77 73 76 Sit-Ups 56 53 59 Pullups 34 33 35 Skinfold 49 57 59 Mile Run 49 52 55 NINTH-GRADE SCORES Sit-Reach 87 84 84 Sit-Ups 53 54 61 Pullups 31 37 39 Skinfold 62 62 63 Mile Run 52 51 56

Intermediate schools tested: Bell Gardens, Eastmont, La Merced, Macy, Montebello and Suva.

High schools tested: Bell Gardens, Montebello and Schurr.

Source: Montebello Unified School District / Los Angeles Times

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