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Effective and appropriate use of ACTIVITYGRAM and FITNESSGRAM assessments in physical education

By The Cooper Institute (Marilu D. Meredith and Gregory J. Welk, Editors)

This section outlines appropriate uses for FITNESSGRAM and ACTIVITYGRAM and also identifies ways in which these programs should not be used. We then present recommendations for use of the FITNESSGRAM software in program evaluation.

Appropriate Uses for ACTIVITYGRAM

ACTIVITYGRAM was designed to help youth learn to self-monitor their personal physical activity patterns. Learning to self-monitor physical activity helps students to see "how active they really are" and helps them in setting goals for planning lifetime activity programs. Self-monitoring, goal setting, and program planning are considered "self-management skills," and learning self-management skills is considered essential to lifetime physical activity adherence (Dale, Corbin, and Cuddihy, 1998; Dale and Corbin, 2000).

The ACTIVITYGRAM assessment requires the ability to recall bouts of physical activity over the past few days and to categorize activity by type, intensity, and duration. While young children can recall different activities they perform, concepts of time and perceptions of intensity are not well established in younger children. Therefore, ACTIVITYGRAM is not intended for children under the age of 10. Older elementary grade students may also have difficulty with the cognitive aspects of recall, so emphasis should be on the process of completing the assessments.

ACTIVITYGRAM can be used for institutional testing if standardized protocols are used for collecting the information, but proper consideration should be given to interpreting the accuracy of self-reported information. The list below summarizes the appropriate uses of ACTIVITYGRAM in physical education.

Appropriate Uses for ACTIVITYGRAM

  • Personal testing to help students assess their current level of activity
  • Institutional testing to allow teachers to view group data (for curriculum development)
  • Teaching students about different types and intensities of activity and the health benefits of being physically active
  • Helping students self-monitor physical activity over time (in portfolios, for example)
  • Documenting that ACTIVITYGRAM is being administered in schools and that student self-assessments are being tracked over time

Appropriate Uses for FITNESSGRAM

The major purpose of FITNESSGRAM is to provide the student, teacher, and parents with personal information regarding the student’s current level of fitness. The information regarding fitness status can then be used as the basis for designing personal, individualized programs of fitness development. As previously described, the emphasis in physical education should vary across the K-12 curriculum to address higher-order learning objectives and take into account developmental needs of students. Similarly, the use of fitness testing should also be variable across the K-12 curriculum. At young ages, physical activity is not strongly linked to physical fitness. Therefore, an emphasis on structured fitness testing through the FITNESSGRAM battery is not recommended for children in grades K-3. The goal at this age should be to expose children to the different test items and help them learn about the various parts of physical fitness. Self-testing is recommended as the primary means to teach children about these assessments.

Older elementary students are able to understand the different dimensions of fitness and may appreciate the feedback from the assessments. Formal institutional testing is not necessarily recommended, but structured individual testing can provide meaningful information for children and parents as well as teachers. In middle school and high school the curriculum can include self-testing as well as individual and periodic institutionalized testing. Emphasis should change across different years so that students do not come to dread the repeated use of testing every year.

Some teachers feel that tests at the beginning of the year and again at the end of the year are good indicators of student achievement. While this type of testing may be used, the results must be interpreted with caution. First, students will improve whether they are doing activity or not, just because they are getting older. For this reason, incorrect messages may be conveyed. Second, students learn over a period of time to "be bad" on initial tests and "get good" on later tests if grades are based on improvement. The list below summarizes the appropriate uses of FITNESSGRAM in physical education.

Appropriate Uses of FITNESSGRAM

  • Personal testing to help students evaluate their level of health-related fitness
  • Institutional testing to allow teachers to view group data (for curriculum development)
  • "Personal best" testing to allow individual students to privately determine performance levels
  • Teaching students about criterion-referenced health standards and what types of activity are needed to reach them
  • Helping students track fitness results over time (in portfolios, for example)
  • Documenting that FITNESSGRAM is being administered in schools and that student self-assessments are being tracked over time is appropriate

Inappropriate Uses for ACTIVITYGRAM and FITNESSGRAM

  1. Student scores on ACTIVITYGRAM and FITNESSGRAM should NOT be used to evaluate individual students in physical education (e.g., grading or state standards testing). Students are different in terms of interests and ability. Grading students on their fitness performance may be holding them accountable for accomplishments beyond their control. Posting the results for other students to see can create an embarrassing situation that does little to foster positive attitudes toward activity.
  2. Student scores on ACTIVITYGRAM and FITNESSGRAM should NOT be used to evaluate teacher effectiveness (e.g., teacher evaluations). Teachers can be effective at teaching youngsters how to develop and maintain physical fitness and still have students who do not perform well on fitness tests. Often, physical education teachers who emphasize only fitness activities may be shortchanging their students in other areas such as skill development, social skills, and positive attitudes toward physical activity.
  3. Student scores on ACTIVITYGRAM and FITNESSGRAM should NOT be used to evaluate overall physical education quality (e.g., physical education program assessment). Promoting physical fitness is only one part of a quality physical education program. Teaching physical skills, cooperative skills, and health maintenance skills are equally important objectives for promoting lifelong physical activity.

Recommended Approaches for Program Evaluation

For better or for worse, there is an increasing emphasis on standardized testing in schools-and physical education is no exception. Education programs at all levels are increasingly being asked to document that they are monitoring and achieving stated learning objectives. Therefore, there is a need to develop a systematic approach to document important outcomes in physical education. There currently is no established national standard, and the standards and criteria vary considerably across states. While teachers may not have complete autonomy to prepare their own evaluation plans, it is important for them to be aware of the issues and be able to defend criteria that are appropriate to use in evaluating their program.

A common approach is establishing criteria to define the percentage of the student body that should achieve the Healthy Fitness Zone or above. Establishment of appropriate criteria is difficult since the percentage of students achieving the Healthy Fitness Zone varies. The assumption in some cases is that if the curriculum or program is adequate, then most students should be able to achieve these institutional goals. In this model, teachers reporting values below the stated goals may be asked to make systematic changes in their program to increase the percentage of students achieving the goals. As described previously, student fitness outcomes are not completely within a teacher’s control. Teachers forced to comply with this type of evaluation system may be forced to "teach to the test" and emphasize only fitness attainment at the expense of other educational outcomes. Student attainment of fitness outcomes does not provide a good indication of program quality and other indicators should be considered for evaluation.

Some districts are interested in tracking trends over time. Changes in passing rates over time can provide useful information for curriculum planning. Program coordinators can compare fitness and activity levels of similarly aged children to evaluate the utility of new lessons or initiatives. This type of documentation can help to provide some accountability for the overall program. The FITNESSGRAM software provides a number of useful tracking and report functions to facilitate documentation of group results. Information on these report functions can be found in the software section of this manual. Additional information on program evaluation guidelines can be found in the FITNESSGRAM Reference Guide. Schools and districts are encouraged to carefully consider the relative merits of different evaluation criteria. Emphasis should be placed on quality-improvement approaches that systematically seek to improve on the overall programs.


This is an excerpt from the Fitnessgram/Activitygram Test Administration Manual, Fourth Edition.


For more information on Fitnessgram/Activitygram, visit

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