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Physical Education Course Substitutions: Are They Comparable?
Presentation at the 2014 Active Living Research Annual Conference.
Background and Purpose
Though physical education (PE) is a key evidence-based strategy for providing and promoting physical activity, there are many practice and policy challenges that interfere with it reaching its full potential to impact health outcomes. Among these challenges is the pervasive practice of allowing alternative programs such as Junior Officer Reserve Corps (JROTC) to substitute for PE enrollment. How closely these alternative programs reach the outcomes of PE, including the provision or promotion of physical activity remains unclear. Given the critical need for the accrual of moderate to vigorous physical activity and the importance of PE in promoting it, substitution policies for PE classes should be based on evidence-- yet none exists. Hence, the purpose of this study was to initiate a line of research aimed at building an evidence base on physical activity levels and lesson contexts to assess comparability of high school PE and the courses/programs commonly substituted for it.
This study aimed to compare student physical activity levels and lesson contexts during high school PE and JROTC, a common PE course substitution.
We identified 12 high schools from a large southwestern urban school district that provided both PE and JROTC. From these, we randomly selected 4 schools to participate in the study. Within each school we recruited 2 PE and 2 JROTC teachers to participate by allowing us to observe one of their randomly selected intact class of students on typical school days during one week. Two trained observers used the System for Observing Fitness Instruction Time (SOFIT) to collect physical activity and lesson context data during 38 PE and 38 JROTC lessons. IOA was conducted on 10% of PE lessons and 25% of JROTC lessons and was found to be 93% for physical activity and 99% for lesson context in PE and 96% for both physical activity and lesson context for JROTC. Two-tailed t-tests were used to examine PE and JROTC differences in the percentage of class time spent in physical activity and lesson context categories. Given that some outcomes were not normally distributed, negative binomial models were used to analyze the rate (incidence density ratio) of student physical activity and lesson context variables. Binary logistic regression models were used to analyze the difference between PE and JROTC classes in odds of providing at least 50% of time in moderate to vigorous physical activity.
Students engaged in significantly more moderate to vigorous physical activity during PE lessons than JROTC lessons (61 vs. 23%; t=8.64; p<.001). Students in PE spent significantly more time walking and engaging in vigorous activities while those in JROTC spent significantly more time sitting and standing. Significantly more PE lessons engaged students in at least 50% of class time in moderate to vigorous physical activity (76 vs. 8%; t=8.27; p<.001). PE teachers allocated significantly more class time for fitness and game play and teachers of JROTC lessons allocated significantly more time for knowledge and skill development. Knowledge time during PE (100%) focused on physical fitness, motor skill development, and game strategy concepts, while most knowledge time (83%) in JROTC focused on drill, inspections, and military history and strategies. Results of negative binomial models showed that PE lessons provided moderate to vigorous physical activity at a rate almost three times higher than JROTC lessons (p<.001) while sedentary behavior time in PE was almost half that of JROTC (p<.001). Results of binary logistic regression models indicated that compared with JROTC lessons, PE lessons had significantly greater odds of meeting the recommendation of students spending at least 50% of class time in moderate to vigorous physical activity (OR=37.59; p<.001; 95% CI: 9.31-151.86).
Students enrolled in JROTC engaged in significantly less moderate and vigorous physical activity than students in PE and they were significantly more sedentary. JROTC provided students “physical training” only one day per week and on other days lessons were delivered in the classroom. Lesson context data also indicated contrasting subject matter delivery. Overall, we found no compelling similarities between PE and JROTC during the observed lessons and therefore failed to find evidence to substantiate the substitution of JROTC classes for PE.
Implications for Practice and Policy
This study highlighted that education policy makers may need to re-evaluate the process for approving course substitutions for required PE. At the very least, prior to being accepted as a substitute for PE, programs should be evaluated for their ability to provide and promote physical activity.