Implementation of the National Standards in Elementary and Secondary Physical Education Teaching

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This study examined to what extent the National Standards for Physical Education (NASPE, 1995) have shaped the teaching practices and curriculums in elementary and secondary levels. Specifically, more attention was paid to the extent to which teachers (a) taught to the standards, (b) integrated assessment with teaching practices, and (c) incorporated the standards into physical education programs.

Theoretical Framework

The National Standards for Physical Education (NASPE, 1995) provide teachers with guidelines for curriculum and instruction to ensure "what students should know and be able to do" (p. 2) in the psychomotor, cognitive, and affective domains. According to students' developmental levels, each content standard is further defined within K-12 grade levels. Grade-specific sample benchmarks delineate performance indicators toward achieving the standards. Curriculum-embedded performance assessments are recommended to help teachers assess levels of students' achievement that meets the specified standard. The standards provide not only desired learning outcomes for students to achieve, but also targeted directions for teachers to work toward. To facilitate all students at different grade levels to reach the specified standards, teachers must provide students with quality physical education programs that are developmentally appropriate and instructionally appropriate. Even though students participated in physical activities and sports, we cannot guarantee that they will (a) automatically learn and master motor skills and game strategies; (b) apply movement concepts and principles as well as game rules in actual contexts; (c) demonstrate physically fit behaviors, (d) maintain and enhance fitness levels; (e) develop responsible personal and social behaviors; (f) accept and respect differences among peoples in skills, cultures, and values; and (g) appreciate learning experiences offered in physical education classes. The achievement of the standards depends on what is being taught and how it is taught. The standard-based reform calls for effective changes in incorporating the standards into physical education programs. To date, the national standards have been published for six years. However, little is known about to what degree our current teaching practices and curriculums address the standards. Thus, the pragmatic need to conduct this research project is apparent.


The participants of this study were 26 physical education teachers (9 in high schools, 2 in middle schools, and 14 in elementary schools located in suburban, urban, and rural areas). The teachers' teaching experience ranged in years from two to thirty-five. Their school populations varied widely from predominantly white, culturally and racially diverse, to predominantly African-American. Students were from families representing low, lower-middle, middle, and upper-middle classes. Physical education class met once a week in the teachers' schools.

The data were collected through non-participant field observation with field notes, formal and informal interviews, and document collection. The researchers observed 78 lessons while taking field notes which described physical settings, students' portraits, lesson introduction, task presentation, learning experiences, students' cognitive, behavioral, and movement responses, a teacher's instructional intervention/feedback, and lesson closure. All hand-written field notes were input into a computer and printed out. 26 formal interviews (1 to 2 hours) were conducted with the teachers using semi-structured interview questions (Patton, 1990). Informal interviews were the daily interactions between the researchers and the teachers. All formal interviews were audiotaped and transcribed later for analysis. In addition, some of the teachers' curriculum guides, unit and lesson plans, and assessment sheets were collected.

Prior to data analysis, all researchers studied the standards and were familiar with them. Field notes and interview transcripts were analyzed using the procedures suggested by Glaser and Strauss (1967) and Goetz and LeCompte, (1984). These included (a) reading and re-reading each field note and interview transcript, (b) identifying instances which reflected grade-specific performance indicators in the standards with labeling, (c) identifying negative cases of grade-specific performance indicators with labeling, (d) grouping similar instances corresponding to labeling into categories and sub-categories, and (e) combining categories into themes. The data analysis consisted of three phases. First, each researcher used the procedures described above to independently analyze nine field notes and three interview transcripts. Each researcher's partner (another researcher) read his/her field notes and transcripts as well as summaries of findings to confirm or disconfirm them. Second, the first and second researchers used the same procedures again to re-analyze all data independently and then discussed any disagreement until reaching complete agreement. Lastly, the first and second researchers summarized all findings.


Incorporating the standards into physical education programs. Three levels were identified. In the first level, 11 teachers consciously incorporated the standards into their written curriculums and teaching practices either because of their school districts requirement or their personal involvement in writing state standards or district standards. Elementary teachers indicated that their programs helped students in primary grade levels learn movement concepts, acquire fundamental skills, follow class rules, share equipments and space, and respect others. They also articulated that their programs helped upper grade students learn specialized sports and cooperative activities, understand game rules and strategies, and further develop responsible behaviors, cooperative abilities, and problem-solving skills. Secondary teachers discussed that they provided students with a wide variety of sports and activities in their programs. They emphasized that learning and refining skills, application of game rules and strategies, and demonstration of cooperation and sportsmanship are objectives for students to achieve in their programs. In the second level, even though the way they organized their curriculums naturally reflected some standards, the teachers never mentioned that they had ever used the standards as a framework for designing their curriculums and guiding their teaching practices. In the third level, the teachers' curriculum organization confronted the standards. Developmentally inappropriate learning experiences were included in their curriculums. Also, their curriculums reflected a limited scope of subject areas and lack of articulated objectives matching the standards.

Educational Significance

This study is significant in providing insightful and diagnostic information about positive and negative cases of reflecting and implementing the national standards in physical education programs. This study uncovers the stimulators and barriers of incorporating the standards into teaching practices and curriculum. The study suggests that both teacher education and professional development programs need to equip preservice and inservice teachers with adequate knowledge of content, pedagogy, assessment, and the standards.

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