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The Effects of Physical Education on Academic Achievement


We all know that being physically active is vital for our health and our lives. Engaging in physical activity is important to prevent obesity, lowering the risk of acquiring Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic diseases (White House Let’s Move campaign, 2015). Recent studies show that youth today are not getting the recommended amount of physical activity as per the guidelines for health-related outcomes (Salmon & Timperio, 2007). It is recommended that children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity on a daily basis (Janssen & LeBlanc, 2010; US Department of Health and Human Services, 2008). Children are not meeting this requirement because physical education classes are being reduced and in some cases are being cut from their school day. It has been found that 30% of America’s youth are provided with physical education classes daily, whereas nearly 50% are not participating in any kind of physical education during the school week (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012). A lack of resources because of unfunded programs is one reason for the decline in physical activity levels in our youth. In order to enhance achievement and performance on standardized test is another reason used for cutting and eliminating physical education programs in our schools to increase children’s time in the classroom (Wójcicki & McAuley, 2014). The lack of physical activity among our youth puts them at a greater risk of obesity, but it can also effect academic achievement. After all, children’s participation in physical activity can lead to greater attention and improved learning (Wójcicki & McAuley, 2014).

For these reasons, our team decided to investigate if the lack of physical education at the high school level affects student’s academic achievement in low income areas. The reason for why we choose low income areas is because academic achievement is lower in urban areas and it continues to persist. This problem has been explained by a great number of students performing poorly on standardized test and not performing at grade level, along with high rates of high school drop outs and special education classification (Ahram, Stembridge, Fergus, & Noguera, 2015). What we want to know about this topic that we do not know is if the time spent in physical education impacts high school student’s academic performance in low income areas. The consequence of not knowing this information can be that student’s academic achievement is negatively affected, as a result of not taking into account how cutting time in physical education actually reduces academic performance. This research topic is significant because it can help prevent obesity, improve academic achievement and the challenges already faced by youth growing up in low-income areas that affect their development and their futures.

Literature Review

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 et al. (2011) 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 report decreasing time allotted for recess, physical education, art, and music by 32% since NCLB” (p. 467).

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 tests. 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 perform better on standardized tests. 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 greater PE minutes high school students receive, the higher their scores will be on standardized tests in math and reading.

Data Collection Methodology


The method we have decided to use is a quantitative data analysis based on documents. We will collect document data from high schools in low income areas within the 5 boroughs. The documents will include the physical education minutes’ students receive weekly and their standardized tests scores in both reading and math.

The reason why we decided to use this method is because in a study conducted by Snelling et al. (2015) they collected data from 120 elementary schools’ in urban areas within Washington DC. The data collected included the number of minutes allocated toward physical education and students scores on a math standardized test. The aim of Snelling et al. (2015) study was to understand the relationship between the amount of time spent in PE and math proficiency at the elementary school level. This is relevant to the study were proposing because we want to understand how physical education at the high school level affects student’s academic achievement. The reason for why we want to collect data regarding PE minutes and standardized tests scores in math and reading at the high school level, is because in Snelling et al. (2015) study they collected this data from elementary schools and only looked at math standardized test scores. Along with this, though researchers have sought to find the connection between PE and academic achievement by collecting data from grades 3-11 they did not compare physical education minutes to standardized test scores. Rather, their data included standardized fitness measures (FITNESSGRAM) and reading/math standardized tests scores (Van et al., 2011).

Population and Sample

Our population of interest is high schools in low income areas within the 5 boroughs. To select our sample, we have decided that we will randomly select 3 high schools from low income areas within each borough in NYC (3 from Brooklyn, 3 from Manhattan, 3 from Staten island, 3 from Queens, and 3 from the Bronx) totaling to 15 schools. The way we decided which areas were low income in NYC was by looking at data regarding the median household income in each borough. Within these 15 schools we will collect students standardized tests scores in math and reading from grades 9th -12th to compare it to the number of physical education minutes reported weekly.

Data Collecting Procedures

The quantitative data that we will be collecting are the number of minutes’ students are exposed to PE and standardized tests scores. The reason we will be collecting this data is to test whether or not there is a correlation between academic achievement (test scores) and physical education (minutes allowed in gym classes) among high school students from low income neighborhoods. We will gain access to this data by asking the schools for documents that report this information.

The variables that we are interested in are standardized tests scores and PE minutes. We are interested in these variables, as we want to find out if the amount of time allocated toward PE has an affect on students standardized test scores. The independent variable is the amount of PE minutes and the dependent variable is the standardized tests scores. In our particular research project there are mediating as well as moderating variables that are present such as age, gender, and race. Such factors may influence the results and are variables that we may consider in later research, however for the purpose of our particular research question we are not going to focus on these variables.

  PE Minutes Scores
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Figure 1: Sample data chart.


When doing our analysis, we will check that the standardized tests scores (math and reading) and the number of PE minutes are accurate. We will do this by having another team check our numerical data and run the test for us again.

Ethical Considerations

Ethics can be defined as any moral principle that manages a person’s or groups behavior. We plan to ensure that the data we collect is kept confidential. The data will not include the schools name or school district number, instead we will reassign numbers to these schools. We will ensure that our findings are impartial by randomly selecting schools to include in our study. We will report all the data that is available from all documents that are included in our research study without selective filtering.

When dealing with data security it is important that all information collected during the research process is securely stored and is done so safely. We will make sure that all of the paper copies of tests scores and document data on PE minutes are stored and locked in filing cabinets in an archive. To avoid misinterpretation of our research we will be extremely clear about the parameters of our study and the extent to which interpretation can be made.

Data Analysis Plan

The variables that we will be analyzing include students standardized tests scores in math and reading, as well as the amount of physical education minutes’ students receive weekly. To report our data, we will have a chart that will include the amount of PE minutes and students scores on standardized tests (math and reading) for each school. Our level of measurement will be continuous as we are looking at PE minutes and standardized tests scores. To visualize the relationship between PE minutes and standardized tests scores, we will plot our data on a graph. In order to understand the relationship between PE minutes and students standardized tests scores, we will run an ANOVA test to determine the correlation coefficient.



We are using students standardized test scores because this is the standard way that schools measure academic achievement. We are collecting PE minutes as an indicator of how much time students are physically active. Although PE minutes do not necessarily measure the time spent being physically active, this is the most accessible available data that addresses the value of physical activity as measured in time. The neighborhoods we chose are based on income data, this is commonly used as an indicator of SES at the neighborhood level.


After we conduct our study, if we find that greater time spent in physical education improves academic performance, this will provide evidence for the need to increase time in physical education programs (specifically in low income areas). This will inform policy makers that cutting PE minutes actually has negative effects on student’s performance on standardized tests, therefore only making things worse for these students. If this is the outcome of the study, we recommend that policy makers consider increasing time in physical education programing to ensure that students reach their highest potential on standardized tests.

If we find that there is no relationship between academic achievement and PE minutes, then it will inform policy makers that their making these policies without a reason. Furthermore, such policies will only increase the likelihood that these students will be predisposed to obesity.

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