The President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition (PCFSN) launched the Presidential Youth Fitness Program back in September 2012 and replaced the President’s Council Youth Fitness Test of the past with FITNESSGRAM®. This was more than just changing the tests; it changed the meaning of the testing. Testing is no longer to be by percentile scores but now it is about being in the “healthy fitness zone.” Testing now assesses the fitness level of American youth, which is associated with health, rather than performance.
One of the most important measures of fitness is aerobic capacity. VO2max measured during a stress tests is the criterion measure of aerobic capacity, but obviously it is impractical to administer stress tests to all American school students; FITNESSGRAM®, therefore, provides 3 different, simple, practical, and valid field tests for assessing aerobic capacity, which can be administered to many students at the same time. Specifically, FITNESSGRAM® assesses aerobic fitness by using either the one-mile run, the PACER (Progressive Aerobic Cardiovascular Endurance Run, commonly known as the beep-test) or the one-mile walk test. The offering of different tests help schools to choose which one of the three tests is able to best fit to the students and facilities.
PACER, a multistage fitness test that is basically a shuttle endurance run (15m or 20m) that increases the pace as laps are completed, is now the most popular aerobic tests in FITNESSGRAM®. It is a test that can be easily set up in a gymnasium and since students run together at a set pace, there is not the issue of lapping each other such as when doing timed one mile runs in a gym. More importantly it is a fun and safe test since running is accompanied by music and the pace of the running is controlled so that students will not run too fast at the beginning of the test. The validity and reliability of PACER have been well established. The one-mile run or walk tests are alternative methods of estimating aerobic fitness that may be preferable in some situations when there are facilities that lend themselves readily to a measured one-mile route and the student population might be more at ease setting their own running or walking pace. While the FITNESSGRAM® offers the three different tests to choose from, there are issues with the tests that occur in all testing, which are: accurate measurement, ease of testing, and testing burden. To address these issues, we should embrace a technology already widely utilized by the timed-sporting world, radio-frequency identification.
Radio-frequency identification (RFID) has come a long ways since its development for military purposes in World War II to it being used for sports timing in the 1990s. It is surprising that RFID timing is commonly seen in high school cross country events, yet it has not been used as a labor saving and more accurate assessment tool by PE teachers. PE teachers still do hand timing of the one-mile run or walk (sometimes this includes lap counting too, one PE teacher reports that 12 laps of their gym is needed for a mile), and PACER is based on a peer scorer recording number of laps completed in time, then allowing one lap that the student does not reach the line by the beep and then scoring numbers of laps when a student does not reach the line by the beep the second time. One peer scorer is needed for every single student being PACER tested. RFID timing and tracking would alleviate the problems that come with hand timing, lap counting, and peer scoring. It is time to move RFID systems into PE classes.
The development and application of RFID timing for PACER, one-mile run or walk tests would allow for accuracy and allow mass testing of students without risking scoring errors that might come from mental demands put on test administrator when supervising many students taking an aerobic assessment test at once. An RFID system would also remove having a peer scorer that is wrought with potential reasons for inaccuracy. The Presidential Youth Fitness Program’s adoption of FITNESSGRAM® to assess fitness provides that there is a great chance for promoting fitness as a way to combat the obesity epidemic that the world is experiencing, since any good intervention/program starts with an evaluation, which is what the Presidential Youth Fitness Program is. It only makes sense that RFID as a means of timing and tracking assists in accurately assessing youth fitness.
Fortunately, IPICO Sports, a well-known sport timing company, has developed an RFID system ready to be used in PE classes. They recently launched A-PASS! (Automatic Physical Activity Scoring System) that scores PACER, one-mile run, and one-mile walk tests. It also offers the potential to be applied to other testing and training. RFID timing and tracking as a tool for PE teachers and coaches is now a reality but one that is waiting for PE teachers and coaches to accept and use it. With the adoption of FITNESSGRAM® testing as the means of assessment of American youth, the timing for bringing RFID into school gymnasiums and playing fields is perfect. Using RFID to assist in FITNESSGRAM® aerobic testing is just the start, as PE teachers and coaches embrace the technology it will be interesting to see how RFID likely will become as ubiquitous in PE classes and sports training as it is in timed sports.
Weimo Zhu, Ph.D.
Editor-in-Chief, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport
Department of Kinesiology & Community Health
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign