A Tool to Help Understand How Physical Activity Policies Are Functioning in Schools and Districts

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August 9, 2013
By Monica Lounsbery
A Tool to Help Understand How Physical Activity Policies Are Functioning in Schools and Districts

 

Co-Authors: Monica A.F. Lounsbery, Ph.D., University of Nevada, Las Vegas & Thomas L. McKenzie, Ph.D., San Diego State University

Policies are critical tools that shape the structure (e.g., how much, how frequently, who is responsible) and function (e.g., what is permissible, what processes should be in place, what are outcomes should be expected) of events in any environment. Recently, researchers interested in physical activity in school settings have taken an interest in learning more about school physical activity policies. These studies have begun to describe the complexity of school policies in relation to their different level of enactment (e.g., state, district, school), language strength (e.g., strong, such as ‘shall’ or weak, such as ‘should’), targets (e.g., minutes of recess per day, who teaches physical education), and accountability (e.g., none; tied to budgets).

Most research on school physical activity policies has been reported at the state or district levels and far less known about policies at the individual school level. We believe studying district and school level policies is critical, especially to understanding how physical activity programming relates to organizational structure, practices, and outcome expectations. Ultimately, assessing the intricacies of policy at the school site level is critical to understanding how individual school physical activity programs function to provide physical activity for children.

To help people learn more about school physical activity policies in local schools and districts, we developed and validated a tool called School Physical Activity Policy Assessment (S-PAPA). S-PAPA assesses both district- and school-level policies and provides school site indicators of actual physical activity policy implementation. The instrument has three distinct sections: (a) Physical Education; (b) Recess, and (c) Other Before/ During/After School Programs. Researchers and practitioners can elect to use one or all sections, depending on individual interests.

S-PAPA is intended to be an inventory of physical activity related policies and practices in schools. When respondents do not know an answer, they are encouraged to seek advisement from the most appropriate source to ensure complete and accurate information. For this reason, we believe S-PAPA is best implemented using an interview format. Total administration time for all three modules is approximately 23 minutes. When the entire S-PAPA tool is used, we recommend that it be given to respondents one section at a time.

References to papers describing the S-PAPA and its validation and reliability are:

Lounsbery, M. A. F, McKenzie, T. L., Morrow, J.R., Monnat, S., & Holt, K. (2013). District and school physical education policies: Implications for physical education and recess time. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 45 (Suppl 1), S131-S141.

Lounsbery, M. A. F., McKenzie, T. L., Morrow, J. R., Holt, K. A., & Budnar, R. G. (2013). School Physical Activity Policy Assessment. Journal of Physical Activity & Health, 10, 496-503.

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