Long Island Schools Rethink Gym Credit

Written by Stacey Andell for Schools K-12

The Problem

Teachers, students, and parents at Long Island schools have been struggling with how to give credit for physical education classes.  On the one hand, many argue that counting gym like an academic class can badly affect the GPA of students who are strong academically but do not do well in gym.   On the other hand, others argue that when students know that the gym class does not affect their GPA they do not put the effort and attention into the class in order to improve their physical health.

Long Island Schools have decided to strike a middle ground and allow students to choose whether they want it to count or not.   The decision only applies to current sixth through ninth graders so it will not affect current graduating high school students.   24 of the 60 schools in the Suffolk County district have decided to handle gym in this way, hoping to please groups on both sides while addressing the needs of students.  

The Process

Many of the changes were suggested by parents who signed petitions to allow physical education to be counted on GPAs instead of as a pass / fail mark as it had been in the past.  The superintendent and the school boards of Long Island schools met to consider the proposals from parents to figure out how to make the physical education curriculum the most effective for students as well as the most standardized in grading. 

In addition to parental concern, there was also intense scrutiny of the new New York State Standards for Physical Education.   The argument here is that the new standards have clear aims and objectives that can be measured and graded like an academic class.   Superintendents of Long Island schools determined that in implementing these new standards in the physical education curriculum, the schools would be able to give grades for accomplishing certain tasks rather than the all – encompassing pass / fail marks.  

What People Think

Reactions to the change have been mixed.   Some parents are looking forward to counting the physical education class on the GPA while others are worried about hurting the academic side of their child’s report card.  One board member stated: "I think that phasing it in provides us the opportunity to see how it goes. Allowing the option would not hurt a student’s GPA." The decision also pleased Jonathan Estrada, who will be a senior this fall at Northport High School. Earlier in the school year, he had become concerned when he learned that the new policy would be mandatory. "I was immediately sort of troubled about it," he said. "You shouldn’t be hurt from a grade that doesn’t reflect the actual ability."

In academic circles, many educators are applauding the change, citing the need for a stronger and more comprehensive program in physical education to tackle the current health problems of America’s youth.  University studies and national surveys all point to the increased grading and evaluating of physical education as key to keeping the class relevant and useful for students.   Counting the class as a grade will help students take the class more seriously, and hopefully translate into healthier students in and out of Long Island schools.