A Gym Class That Raises Student Test Scores

School budget woes, PE is the first to go (and art, and music, and librarians).

According to research presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in May in Denver, combining physical activity with academic lessons led to an increase in test scores for first- through sixth-graders at an academically low-scoring elementary school in Charleston, S.C. Thanks to several grants the school nurse received, the school was able to renovate classrooms into a gym and to create some innovative activities that combined physical movement with academic learning for students.

The school created an “All Minds Exercise” (AMX) room for older students and an “Action Based Learning” (ABL) lab for the younger schoolchildren, with the following activities. From Science Daily:

First- and second-graders moved through stations in the ABL lab, learning developmentally appropriate movement skills while basic academic skills were reinforced. For example, children traced shapes on the ground while sitting on scooters and hopped through ladders while naming colors on each rung.

Students in third through sixth grades had access to exercise equipment with TV monitors. For instance, a treadmill had a monitor that played geography lessons as the student ran through the scene, and a rock-climbing wall was outfitted with numbers that changed as they climbed to help students work on math skills.

I was intrigued by the creative activities designed for this program, especially for their combination of physical and kinetic activities with academic learning. Some of the activities, like the ladder and rock climbing activities, seem to combine learning and something (I almost hate to say it!) fun.

Further, taking time away, or rather time out, from being in a classroom led to students’ state standardized test scores increasing, from 55 percent to 68.5 percent. Said Kathryn L. King, MD, a pediatric resident at the Medical University of South Carolina Children’s Hospital and one of the researchers:

“These data indicate that when carefully designed physical education programs are put into place, children’s academic achievement does not suffer.”

Indeed, “there is growing substantial evidence that this kind of physical activity may help improve academic behavior, cognitive skills and attitudes,” as another pediatric resident and researcher, Carly J. Scahill, DO, points out.

Prior to the program, students had only 40 minutes per week of PE; with the new program, that had PE five days a week, for 40 minutes a day. I’m also wondering if just having regular PE might have helped the students and hope that this change in their daily schedule is permanent.

With so much attention placed on technology and computers in education, I’ve started to think that sometimes the basics — like good old-fashioned running around (with a little structure) — get forgotten. My son once only had 30 minutes of PE a week in an old elementary school. At his current school (a county autism center), he has APE (Adapted Physical Education) and physical activities every day and these have greatly helped his behavior issues. The ancient saying of mens sana in corpore sano, “a healthy mind in a healthy body,” remains as true as ever. School administrators and politician, take heed

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Photo by ilovememphis


Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran5 years ago


jessica w.
jessica w6 years ago

Thank you.

Carol Traxler
Carol Traxler6 years ago

Luckly I was in school back in the 70's and I was in a school system which believed in being very creative in gym. I know that the variety and quality of activities offered helped me expend excess energy and allowed me to focus better in class.

jane richmond
jane richmond6 years ago

Have educators read this post?? They are attempting to do away with physical education classes. Children need to be well rounded.

KrassiAWAY B.
Krasimira B6 years ago

Noted with interest.

Past Member
Inari T6 years ago

Good to see that this approach is being tested in a way that will provide evidence to support a more holistic approach to education. There are limits to what either sitting in front of a computer or sitting at a desk can achieve. Variety in engagement keeps everyone fresh.

Vera C.
Vera C6 years ago

Thanks for the article!
I would like to stress that we should not be debating which part of education should suffer because of cuts in funds: education should be among the very last things to cut, together with health programs.
As for the specific point... Am I the only one who used to exercise while studying? Although I was quite awful in any kind of sport, I sometimes found it (and still find it) pretty difficult to sit still and concentrate: I guess, in the case described, moving while studying proved even better than interrupting lessons for a sports or gym break now and then.

Samantha T.
Samantha Trosky6 years ago

What petition? Did I miss something?

Elizabeth O.
.6 years ago

Petition signed.

David N.
David N6 years ago

Thanks for the article... and great comments Carole K.