California’s Gavin Newsom wants to end physical fitness test for kids, says they lead to bullying of trans youth

Sophia Bollag and Sawsan Morrar

The Sacramento Bee

California students would get a break from physical fitness tests, which include timed 1-mile runs, for three years under a proposal from Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Newsom argues the tests can lead to body shaming and bullying of transgender and special education students, said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the governor’s Department of Finance.

The test assesses physical fitness, including strength, endurance and flexibility. Students must complete a variety of activities, including a one-mile run, push-ups and a modified pull-up. The test also determines students body mass index, or BMI.

Under current law, schools must administer the tests to 5th, 7th and 9th graders, with exceptions for students with disabilities that prevent them from taking parts of the test. School districts must report their results to the state’s education department.

But the Newsom administration argues the test discriminates against students with disabilities and students who do not identify as either male or female, Palmer said. The California Department of Education has received complaints from school districts that the test’s BMI screening discriminates against students who do not identify as gender non-binary because it requires them to select a gender, Palmer said.

Several Sacramento-area mothers say they’re open to the concept Newsom is airing.

Christine Maxwell, 33, of Sacramento recalled taking the exams — push-ups, stretches, sit-ups, the mile run — when she was in school in Placer County. She was embarrassed for being unable to do a pull-up. Maxwell also recalled having her body fat measured with a tool, and learning her BMI score in front of her classmates.

Now as a mother, Maxwell said she would support a plan to remove testing in schools so her own daughter wouldn’t face the same issues.

“It makes me feel like it is a competition between students over who could do better,” Maxwell said. “You have your classmates around you, and watching you. You want to do your best, but you feel embarrassed.”

Lindsay Stevenson, 34, who has a sixth grade son in Dry Creek Unified School District, said she was comfortable with the tests. Her son’s scores are kept in a binder, and they are never shared or compared with classmates.

“I love that he sets goals for himself and students can see their own progress,” she said. “I don’t want the exams to stop, but if they’re checking for body fat, that is not something I agree with.”

Newsom’s proposal wouldn’t change other physical education requirements. Students would still be required to take PE classes to graduate.

If the tests are halted, Newsom wants education leaders in the state to consult experts in fitness, gender identity and disability to make recommendations about what to do about the tests moving forward. By November 2022, Newsom’s proposal requires the state schools chief to submit a report of the recommendations to lawmakers, the Newsom administration and the State Board of Education.

Newsom laid out his plan as part of his proposed bill language for implementing next year’s budget. Newsom outlined his $222.2 billion budget proposal early last month, and began posting proposed language to implement the plan Friday.

His education budget proposal includes roughly $900 million to address the state’s teacher shortage and improve teacher training in special education, science and math, mental health intervention, English language learners, and support for students from marginalized communities. He’s tasked his wife, First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, with leading an initiative to make school meals more nutritious.

“Everyone has different body types,” Maxwell, the Sacramento mother, said. “School is stressful enough. It should keep students active, but sometimes some people just can’t do some things, and that’s not fair.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the number of years the test would be suspended. It would be suspended for three years, not two.


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