California public school students are slightly trimmer and fitter than they were a year ago, but many still are unable to meet the state's basic level of fitness, according to figures released Thursday by the state Department of Education. And students in Los Angeles, especially high school students, were significantly less fit than the state average.
About 60% of students in fifth, seventh and ninth grades statewide passed an aerobic fitness test, up roughly 3% from last year. Nearly a third of the students passed all of the six criteria that the state uses to determine fitness.
But aerobic fitness rates were significantly lower for ninth-graders than for younger children, and nearly a third of all students failed the "body composition" test, which measures fat.
In the Los Angeles Unified School District, 57% of ninth-graders failed the aerobic fitness test, and nearly four in 10 had unhealthy levels of body fat. But the district did show modest improvement from last year.
"At the rate we are currently improving, it will not be long before we are equal to the state or even surpass the state," said Jeanie Leighton, the district's director of middle school programs, who also oversees all physical education for L.A. Unified.
The tests were administered last winter and spring, and most schools have notified students of their personal scores. Beginning in 2008, the test will have consequences for high school students: Those who fall short on the ninth-grade test will lose the two-year P.E. exemption that most districts allow for those in 10th through 12th grades.
Physical fitness advocates have said in the past that California schools have slacked off from providing vigorous physical education classes because their focus has been on improving academic test scores. Although state officials have paid more attention to physical education in recent years, there are no sanctions for schools whose students are out of shape.
Jack O'Connell, state superintendent of public instruction, said the physical fitness results were cause for concern.
"While I'm pleased these numbers are moving in the right direction," he said, "this annual fitness test serves as an important reminder to all of us that the majority of our students are not in good physical shape."
"The message from these results is clear," he added. "Our children and youth need more physical activity in their daily lives."
State law requires school districts to administer a physical fitness test to all students in fifth, seventh and ninth grades. This year, nearly 1.4 million students were tested.
This year's scores show a 1.5% increase in fifth-graders' scores, a 1.3% increase for seventh-graders, and a 2.7% gain for ninth-graders, compared with last year's results.