// you're reading...

Literature Review

Literature Review- Physical Education and Academic Achievement in Urban Areas

For our literature review we will focus on the relationship between physical education and its effect on academic achievement in schools in urban areas. We will do this by addressing the importance of opportunities for physical education today, along with the following factors, health, testing scores, and amount of PE time. In order to fully immerse ourselves into this research topic we found studies and research articles from the ESCO database. After reading through each of the articles our research team started to notice commonalities between the articles that we collected. Once we did this we were able to better group our findings into subcategories, which later on became our factors for measuring the relationship between physical education and academic achievement. The first factor that we will discuss is the importance of addressing opportunities for physical education.

Importance of Addressing Opportunities for Physical Education in the Present Moment

In a research study by Madsen and Hicks and Thompson (2011) elementary school students in California participated in a school–based program called Playworks. Playworks is a program that strives to promote positive youth development through physical activity. Results from the study reflected that there are health and immediate risks for children in low income areas and there seems to be a greater need for more positive physical programming to lessen these risk factors. Madsen et al. (2011) goes on to state that physical activity has the added advantage of reducing cardiovascular risk as well as obesity. Physical activity has shown to improve such health risks, while also creating natural opportunities for social interaction.

In addition to heavy concerns for health risk, Madsen’s et al. (2011) study discusses how there are poorer educational outcomes for children living in low income areas. Since there is constantly more pressure put on students for testing, there is less time for children to be physical active. Furthermore, Madsen claims that a possible explanation for these negative effects results from the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, forcing schools to pay less attention to the need of physical education for children in underperforming schools. According to Madsen et al. (2011) “Elementary school districts reported decreasing time allotted for recess, physical education, art, and music by 32% since NCLB.”

Schools today are cutting physical education programs or reducing the amount of time children have for PE in order to increase children’s time spent in the classroom. There is more pressure placed on schools because of the need for to students pass standardized test in order to meet academic achievement testing thresholds. This is a big reason for why cuts to PE have been made (Chomitz et al., 2009). The National Association for Sport and Physical Education found that the portion of students attending PE daily dropped from 42% to 28% between 1991 and 2003 (Van, Kelder, Kohl, Ranjit & Perry, 2011).

 Health and Academic Achievement

Currently inequalities in health and academic achievement among our urban youth in the U.S are increasing. These inequalities can lead to serious human, social, and economic costs. Those belonging to urban families unfortunately have to face the harsh challenges of poverty. Individuals coming from low socioeconomic status, low educational attainment, along with people of color, have a greater chance of getting sick from nearly all causes earlier in life. This can surely affect their quality of life and the ability for them to contribute to the economic stability of their families and communities. In this study researchers sought to examine the effects of different health assets, as previous studies have only examined one health factor (e.g. obesity), on academic achievement among urban youth in the U.S (Ickovics et al., 2014). They conducted their research by gathering data which included school district records, physical assessments, fitness testing, and surveys. They measured academic achievement by looking at standardized test scores. A health index was created comprised of 14 health assets including physical health, health behaviors, family environment, and psychological well-being. The sample consisted of 940 students in 5th and 6th grade from 12 randomly selected schools from an urban district (Ickovics et al., 2014).

Ickovics et al. (2014) found a strong association between student’s health and academic achievement. Researchers found that students with 9 health assets or more were 2.2 times more likely than those with 6 health assets or less, to perform better or even above standards on standardized tests in areas such as reading, writing, and mathematics. Each additional health asset after 6 increased the likelihood of meeting academic achievement goals by 18%. Additionally, when looking at the odds of achieving “goal” or higher on all 3 standardized test, the most important predictors of academic achievement seemed to be not having a television in the bedroom, being physically fit, at a healthy weight, being food secure, and eating at fast-food restaurants 1 time or less each week. The results of this study demonstrate that these health assets do have an affect on academic achievement, physical health being one of them. These findings are important as it reveals that being physically healthy is one health asset that can improve, among others, academic achievement in our students. For this reason, the researchers in this study suggest that integrating health-promoting behaviors in our urban school districts may help improve both health and academic achievement. Furthermore, it can potentially close the inequalities experienced by our urban youth in both health and academic achievement (Ickovics et al., 2014).

Physical Education and Academic Achievement using Standardized Test Scores

Chomitz et al. (2009) have sought to determine if there is a relationship between the level of physical fitness (using standardized fitness measures) and student’s academic performance on standardized test in urban populations. In this study, the researchers used public school data that included student’s standardized test scores, fitness, and BMI information from 2004 to 2005. The study involved a total of 2,127 children enrolled in grades 4,6,7, and 8th grade. They used statistical analysis to find an association between fitness achievement and the likeliness of a passing score on Math and English standardized test. They found a significant positive relationship between fitness and Math and English academic achievement. The odds of passing both the Math and English standardized test increased following the number of fitness tests passed. These results indicate that schools should consider allowing students more opportunities to be physically active. Being physically active has shown to have potential positive effects on academic achievement (Chomitz et al., 2009).

Physical Education Minutes and Academic Achievement       

Researchers have not just used standardized fitness test when measuring physical activity, but they have also considered using the amount of minutes’ children spend in PE classes. Researchers Snelling et al. (2015) were interested in understanding the relationship between the amount of time spent in PE and math proficiency at the elementary school level. They conducted their research by using data from 120 elementary schools that submitted the school health profile (SHP). The SHP gives information on how many minutes’ schools set for physical and health education, among other things stated by the Healthy Schools Act (HSA). While they measured academic achievement using a math standardized test and assessed the level of implementation of the HSA by creating a composite score. The composite score was determined by how well the school was implementing the policy. Researchers found that schools in the lowest composite score generally had lower math achievement rates, while schools with the highest composite scores had a higher average math proficiency rate. These findings demonstrate how PE, specifically the amount of time spent in PE, may improve academic achievement (in math). Furthermore, physical activity has demonstrated to have positive effects on children’s academic achievement which is a reason for why PE classes should not be cut. By giving children the opportunity to be physically active, not only does it improve their academic performance, but it can improve their lives and their future (Snelling et al., 2015).

After reviewing the literature, it is clear that physical education and activity yields positive effects when it comes to student’s academic performance. Physical education classes provide an opportunity for students to be active during their school day, while also promoting positive youth development. Physical education also fosters social interactions among peers and teaches fundamental skills such as team building. Researchers have found that physical health, one health asset of many, does have an affect on academic achievement as students who are healthier tend to do perform better on standardized test. Others have looked at physical education in schools and found that the level of physical fitness and time spent in PE are associated with higher academic achievement. The studies above have specifically sought to find the relationship between physical fitness/activity and academic achievement at the elementary to middle school level in urban areas. So while the literature has answered our question regarding the relationship between physical education and its effects on academic achievement in low income areas, the literature mainly focuses on students in elementary and middle school. What is missing from the literature is more information regarding physical education and academic achievement at the high school level. For this reason, our research team decided to fill this gap in the literature by answering the question, how does physical education at the high school level affect student’s academic achievement in low-income areas? We hypothesize that the more PE minutes high school students get the higher their scores will be on standardized test in math and reading.


Chomitz, V. R., Slining, M. M., McGowan, R. J., Mitchell, S. E., Dawson, G. F., & Hacker, K. A. (2009). Is there a relationship between physical fitness and academic achievement? Positive results from public school children in the northeastern United States. Journal of School Health79(1), 30-37.

Madsen, K. A., Hicks, K., & Thompson, H. (2011). Physical activity and positive youth development: Impact of a school-based program. Journal of School Health, 81(8), 462-470.

Ickovics, J. R., Carroll-Scott, A., Peters, S. M., Schwartz, M., Gilstad-Hayden, K., & McCaslin, C. (2014). Health and academic achievement: cumulative effects of health assets on standardized test scores among urban youth in the United States. Journal of School Health84(1), 40-48.

Snelling, A. M., Belson, S. I., Watts, E., George, S., Van Dyke, H., Malloy, E., & Kalicki, M. (2015). Translating school health research to policy. School outcomes related to the health environment and changes in mathematics achievement. Appetite, 93, 91-95.

Van, D. P., Kelder, S. H., Kohl III, H. W., Ranjit, N., & Perry, C. L. (2011). Associations of physical fitness and academic performance among schoolchildren. Journal of School Health, 81(12), 733-740.

Skip to toolbar