There are many reasons for testing and assessing in physical education, including increasing motivation, determining strengths and weaknesses, classifying students, determining degree of achievement, evaluating instruction and programs, predicting future success, and conducting research designed to answer questions and solve problems (Miller, 2002). In adapted physical education, testing and assessment strategies are often employed to assist in the determination of unique need (eligibility for services and, subsequently, placement) and in providing a basis for instruction. The relation of testing and assessment to these functions is discussed in the following sections.
Students suspected of having unique physical and motor needs should be referred to appropriate personnel within the school for further testing. Increasingly, more school districts are using response to intervention (RTI) strategies before referrals are processed. RTI consists of tiers of intervention strategies that can be employed in the regular education classroom with the intent to determine if struggling learners require specialized services (Council for Exceptional Children [CEC], 2007). Thus, the referral process does not mean automatic entry into special education. Referrals must document the reasons why the student should be considered for further testing. Testing and assessment at the referral level, usually called screening or informal assessment, document the need for an in-depth evaluation to determine if the student has a unique need in physical education.
Determining unique need is critical for two reasons. First, a student must have a unique need to be eligible for adapted physical education. This is true both for students considered to have disabilities under IDEA and for those without disabilities who have unique physical education needs. Second, once a unique need is determined, the need serves as the basis for developing measurable IEP goals.
In dealing with the question of eligibility, a distinction must be made between an adapted physical education program and the instructional placement to which a student is assigned. A student might qualify for an adapted program but may receive the program services in a regular class placement. Thus, placement is established after the IEP goals have been determined. When a student is referred for possible adapted physical education services, the school district must first formally determine whether or not the student is eligible for the adapted physical education program. It will be necessary for the adapted physical educator to conduct more thorough, formalized assessments to determine if the student has a unique need. In the absence of a medical referral, the criteria for entry into the adapted program (in most cases) should be based primarily on psychomotor performance. Usually, measurement and assessment for the purpose of determining program eligibility should focus on standardized testing (i.e., tests with strong psychometric properties and standards for evaluation). Most districts have established eligibility criteria, and teachers are expected to follow those district policies.
Some states and many school districts have developed criteria for admission into adapted physical education. For instance, in order for a student with a documented disability to be eligible for adapted physical education in the state of Minnesota, the student must either fall one and a half standard deviations below the mean on a standardized psychomotor evaluation or fitness test that is administered individually by an appropriately licensed teacher, have documentation of inadequate development, or exhibit limited achievement and independence in regular physical education based on at least two of the following: motor and skill checklists; criterion-referenced measures; parent and staff interviews; informal tests; medical history or reports; systematic observations; social, emotional, and behavioral evaluations; and deficits in achievement related to the defined curriculum (Minnesota Department of Education, 2007).
In states without such criteria, it is recommended that school districts adopt specific criteria for eligibility in adapted physical education. It is also recommended that districts consider one or more of the following criteria for eligibility based on test results that measure aspects of physical education:
- Low motor development. The student exhibits a motor delay of at least two years or performance is one standard deviation below the mean in motor development.
- Low motor skill performance. The student fails to meet age- or grade-level competencies or criterion-referenced standards in one or more physical education content areas.
- Low health-related physical fitness. The student does not meet specific or general standards of health-related physical fitness.
Because formal testing often takes place under artificial conditions, districts might consider additional salient criteria. For example, corroboration of standardized test results through observational techniques, authentic test results, or a temporary trial placement might also be required. Also, behavioral and communication needs may be considered when making professional judgments regarding eligibility. These factors are reflected in criteria used in determining eligibility for adapted physical education in Minnesota. Thus, a variety of relevant professional judgments can supplement eligibility criteria and decision making. Other examples of these considerations include the following:
- Need for a specially designed physical education program recommended by an individual education planning team
- Need for safe participation
- Medical condition or disability that affects participation in physical activity
- Need for a specially designed program to meet unique needs (strengths) for intramural and interscholastic sport experiences
Once eligibility has been established based on a documented unique need, appropriate goals and objectives are written. Chapter 5 reviews aspects of writing measurable and observable annual goals and short-term objectives. Once goals and objectives are written to address the student’s unique needs, the most appropriate educational placement in the least restrictive environment is selected. The first placement consideration should be the regular class environment. Teachers should attempt to modify activities and instructional methodologies so that the student’s goals can be met in the regular class.
Although there is one primary criterion for admission into the program (i.e., performance), there are several considerations in the selection of the appropriate placement. Placement, for instance, might depend in part on what is being taught in the regular class. A student who uses a wheelchair, for instance, could probably meet appropriate goals for individual sports (e.g., swimming, weightlifting, track and field) in a regular placement. But the same student might be assigned to a more restrictive setting when team sports (e.g., volleyball, soccer, football) are played in the regular class (although alternative activities also could be offered within the same placement). Another important consideration during placement is the input of the student and his parents. Whatever placement is selected, the student should be comfortable with it. In some cases, when students are unable to understand concepts or safety considerations being taught in the regular class or if there are behavioral or other affective concerns, students might need to be assigned to a more restrictive placement (see the continuum of alternative instructional placements in chapter 2).
Students with disabilities, with or without unique needs in the psychomotor domain, might be placed in more restrictive physical education settings if they have unique needs in the affective domain. The affective (or social–emotional) domain is broad and encompasses elements such as attitudes, interests, values, beliefs, and personality, among others, but social behavior is the element of the affective domain that often gets the greatest attention in schools. The ability (and willingness) to follow directions, take turns, respect others, play fair, and demonstrate sportsmanship, for instance, is important in physical education and community-based physical activity settings.
Although physical educators can certainly make observations relative to a student’s behavior in physical activity settings, it is unlikely they will administer any standardized tests to help determine a unique need in the affective domain. Such an assessment is most likely conducted by a school psychologist and might include the administration of tests such as the Vineland Social Maturity Scale or the Behavior Assessment System for Children. Physical educators would more likely assess behavior in an authentic context and, as such, would develop their own rubrics, checklists, task analyses, or rating scales to measure behavior. Refer to figure 4.4 for a behavioral rating scale that can be used in physical education.
Physical educators might also be involved with functional behavioral assessment (FBA), which is designed to gradually reduce unwanted behaviors while also increasing more desirable behaviors (U.S. Department of Education, 2005). In FBA, data such as frequency of behaviors, response rates, intervals, time sampling, durations, and latency periods are commonly gathered. The collection of behavioral data through the use of rubrics and FBA processes can lead to individualized behavioral intervention plans deemed necessary for the child to achieve educational success. Behavioral intervention plans based on FBA are covered in greater depth in chapters 6 and 9.
The role of measurement and assessment does not stop after the student has been assigned an adapted physical education program. Progress on annual goals established for the student should be monitored throughout the year. As suggested earlier, alternative tests can be used for this purpose. For instance, students can work (individually, in pairs, or with the teacher) from task sheets or cards that include rubrics or task analyses for a particular activity. Teachers help students devise practice regimens that promote learning, as evidenced by scoring at a higher level on the rubric or by demonstrating previously missing techniques on the task analysis. Skills learned in practice situations also need to be transferred to natural environments, such as daily activities, games, and sports.
At the conclusion of the instructional program or unit, the teacher should conduct final testing to determine the student’s exit abilities. In some cases, grades are awarded based on this final assessment. Whether the program is graded or not, progress should be evaluated in terms of the written goals and objectives. For nongraded situations, Melograno (2006) suggests a progress report form that lists the student’s goals as a checklist on which teachers can check “achieved,” “needs improvement,” or “working to achieve” for each goal listed. Summary sheets from portfolios can also be used for evaluating exit abilities. Some teachers might choose to give awards to students on the basis of their final test performances.