This paper is focuses on physical education in USA. In most cases, the US-centric focus would be a strong determinate in my decision not to try and ‘unlocke’ this paper for a professional audience. 

So why am I? 

One reason is that I recently explored the analytics on my blog and realised that more than 50% of my audience are American. That means that this type of paper meets the needs of the majority of the blog’s readership. That said, however, I’m not driven by audience alone so I needed more of a reason than that. 

The primary reason I chose to tackle this paper is because I felt it had a lot to tell us about the gaps (some of them very significant) between the aspirations we have for PE (as shown here through a US example) and the realities of what we know from research. Fundamentally, this paper highlights the steps we need to take collectively and individually (as teachers, teacher educators and researchers) to turn what Lungdren (1983) called the hope (of the standards/policy) into the happening (of the school curriculum).

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) Standards

In 1986, NASPE set out to answer the question “What should physically educated students know and be able to do?”. The answer they came up with (and the definition they offered) was that a physically educated person, in their pursuit of a lifetime of healthful physical activity, should have the skills to perform a variety of physical activities, be physically fit, regularly participate in physical activity, know the benefits and implications of involvement in physical activity, and value physical activity and its contribution to a healthful lifestyle. 

Hastie argues that while there has been a focus on competency, knowledge to inform performance, maintenance of health-enhancing physical activity, personal and social behaviour, and enjoyment, challenge and self-expression there is a lack of research evidence to show that these outcomes have occured. In short, he argues that the missing piece is any “documentation concerning American students’ accomplishment of these goals or benchmarks” (p. 4). In what follows, I endeavour to ‘unlocke’ Hastie’s exploration of the outcome statements of the NASPE standards and highlight the areas that we might, more globally, consider what we know about the standards we set for our students. 

Outcome Statement 1

Has learned skills necessary to participate in a variety of physical activities

Hastie argues that not only have skills have been most readily interpreted as motor skills, they have also become the most highly valued goal of physical education. He holds that motor skills have been divided into (i) locomotor skills (running, jumping, hopping), (ii) Non-locomotor skills (twisting), (ii) object control, and (iv) playing a good game and their acquisition has become a predominate focus of physical education. 

Given the importance placed on motor skills research doesn’t show that students are readily meeting pre-defined levels of competence. Studies have shown, for example, that less than 50% of students throw with proper technique. Looking forwards, Hastie reasons that we need to know more about how teachers design programmes that help students achieve skilful performance and listen to students who are telling us that we don’t allow them enough time to practice and improve. We need more studies that explore the complex notions of skilfulness in game play and need to move away from a conceptualisation of physical education as helping students be skilful in techniques of the game rather than being skilful in the games themselves. 

Outcome Statement 2

Knows the implications of and the benefits of involvement in various types of activity

Arguably, the benefits of physical activity are key foci of many, most or even all physical education programmes. That said, can students identify the benefits, costs and obligations associated with regular physical activity? Given that many would argue that can’t do this, it seems sensible to ask (as Hastie does) questions about the extent to which students know (and can apply) the content relating to fitness and physical activity presented during physical education lessons.

Hastie argues that research shows there has been persistent deficiencies in fitness education and that students lack fundamental fitness knowledge. Others have highlighted a lack of applicable knowledge and understanding and, as a consequence, have questioned the adequacy of knowledge gained on teacher education courses about fitness. The answer, as Hastie sees it, is to ask questions not only about why students don’t know about key ideas and concepts but why they hold (and subsequently apply) misconceptions about exercise and fitness. 

Outcome Statement 3

Participates regularly in physical activity

The link between learning in physical education and activity outside school is one that practitioners and researcher have been trying to make for many years. Hastie contends that questions involving the relationship between in- and out-of-class activity are still essential. We know that students aren’t as active in lessons as we’re told they should be but we also know they are, on average, even less active outside of school. To this end, Hastie argues that whilst teachers suggest “an overwhelmingly positive attitude towards teaching physical activity lessons to promote fitness development, they devote only four percent of their class time to actually demonstrating and promoting fitness. As such, how can teachers hope to impact on out of school physical activity if they don’t value it in their teaching? 

Outcome Statement 4

Is physically fit

Avoiding questions about “how fit is fit?” Hastie reasons that whilst we have had test batteries using criterion-referenced evaluation standards since 1988 research hasn’t been undertaken which informs us of children’s performance on these tests. Indeed, in the USA at least, very little national level data exists that might help us to better understanding the concept of being fit.  Understanding fitness is made more challenging by a move in the US to change the focus of fitness education to facilitating more independence for students in determining their engagement in physical activity. Indeed, whilst there have been noted increases in total activity time in lessons this has not been replicate out of school. If being fit is so important, then it needs to be understood in much clearer terms. That said, I would contest the need for students to be fit at a given point in time and would instead argue for an education that allows them to be physical. 

Outcome Statement 5

Values physical activity and its contributions to a healthful lifestyle

Values, according to Hastie, can be best described as a dynamic set of choices. Some have suggested that values come in rank order, with one value being ranked higher than another. Through this model it would be logically to say that those who valued physical activity would undertake it over things to which they afford lower ranked values. Therefore, if students really valued physical activity they would find a way to engage in it out of school. The problem is we simply don’t know if they do. Hastie holds that the link between school and out of school physical activity is blurred. Furthermore, he shows that in some cases students take part in physical activity out of school despite their physical education experiences. Hastie suggests that questions about who enjoys Physical education and what motivates students within physical education might offer us some insight into how and why the subject ultimately increases the value students place on physical activity.

Outcome Statement 6

Exhibits responsible personal and social behaviour that respect self and others

Whilst it is clear that students do act in personal and responsible ways, the bulk of research explores misbehaviour and its impact on physical education. Those studies that do look at the personal and social do so predominantly from the perspective of the Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility (TPSR) model. 

Following his exploration of the research, Hastie suggests that teachers infrequently experience serious behaviour problems but instead frequently suffer mild misbehaviour. Despite the apparent lack of severity, however, teachers report that mild behaviour is their most troublesome management issue. Students themselves freely admit to mild misbehaviour in lessons and put it down to boredom or a feeling that they couldn’t ‘do’ the lesson so they didn’t try. 

Hastie acknowledges a general consensus that specific teaching strategies need “to be put in place to promote positive student behaviour in physical education.” Beyond this, he argues for a number of approaches that have already shown success in this area i.e. TPSR and Sport Education. Looking to the future, Hastie calls for researchers (and teachers) to use variables beyond simple behaviour changes to ‘measure’ respect for self and others. 


Whilst the achievement of national or state standards might be the norm for many physical education teachers, the cupboard is far from being full of research that shows that the standards for physical education are being realised. To this end Hastie suggests a number of areas for future consideration:


1.    Are teachers prepared to teach to and meet the standards? 

Hastie asks if university programmes provide the depth and focus of study to help pre-service and newly qualified teachers to teach quality physical education programmes in schools. He also asks if teacher educators are working hard enough to challenge the “taken-for-granted” beliefs held in universities about physical education.

2.    How do resources and status serve to enhance of limit the potential of teachers to “produce physically literate students?” 

We currently know little about the impact of any of these (as dependent variables) on teaching. We know the effect of specific issues  on teaching practice but not on student outcomes. If outcomes i.e. being physically educated, are important then we need to know much more about them and how they are influenced. 

3.    Why has physical education tried to be all things to all people? And what’s the impact of that? 

Physical education has diluted itself. Hastie asks what would happen if we focused on being good at one or two things? He questions what we might learn from studying sites that do one or things (i.e. one or two standards) well? Equally what would gain from focusing on strengths rather than weakness? What would we learn from studying at a school that has students who value physical activity and take personal responsibility rather than study the same school because it doesn’t teaching the necessary skills or get students physical fit?

The long and short of it is that if we value the things we seek to measure through national or state standards then we need to find ways of assessing and understand how well we prepare students to achieve them. If we only value some of them then how do we support our students to achieve those aspects? At present we don’t know the type of job we’re doing (or at least the US doesn’t) and that doesn’t seem good enough. The key is to assess what we value rather than value what we assess. 

Peter Hastie was awarded the  2017 JTPE Metzler-Freedman Exemplary Paper Award for this paper. 


Peter Hastie (2017): Revisiting the National Physical Education Content Standards: What Do We Really Know About Our Achievement of the Physically Educated/Literate Person?, Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 36, pp. 3-19.