May/June 2014

This article was prepared for The Journal by the Illinois Public Health Institute

The Illinois Enhance P.E. Task Force (Public Act 97-1102) released a report in August 2013 calling for new standards and strategies to improve and increase physical education classes, noting the latest neuroscience research linking physical activity with improved academic performance.

State Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch and Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck, director of the Department of Public Health, co-chaired the Illinois Enhance Physical Education (P.E.) Task Force, which developed the report that was submitted to Gov. Pat Quinn, the Illinois State General Assembly, and health organizations and community groups interested in turning the tide of childhood obesity and improving health for all students.

What is enhanced P.E.?

Enhanced physical education is an evidence-based approach that calls for increasing the amount of time students spend in moderate to vigorous physical activity in P.E. class and has generated proven positive results. The Illinois Enhance P.E. Task Force reviewed extensive research showing that children who are more physically active – in P.E. class, throughout the school day and during recess – perform better in class and on standardized tests, exhibit better classroom behaviors and improve health outcomes.

In order to increase P.E.’s return on investment for learning and health, the governor signed Public Act 97-1102 in August 2012, creating the Enhance P.E. Task Force. Per its charge, the task force proposed revisions to Goals 19-24 of the Illinois Learning Standards for Physical Development and Health, which have since been approved and adopted by the state, including the addition of two new standards that incorporate the latest brain research and best practices for achieving optimal student health and academic achievement. The task force also put forth a set of recommendations offering an array of strategies to enhance existing P.E. programs, including:

• Promoting training and professional development in enhanced P.E. for teachers and other school and community stakeholders

• Implementing metrics to assess the impact of enhanced physical education

• Identifying and seeking local, state and national resources to support enhanced physical education

• Engaging communities

The full report and other resources related to the task force can be found at:

What’s next in Illinois?

Stakeholders across the state, including superintendents, principals, school board members, P.E. teachers, health advocacy organizations, and parents can play a role in implementing the new learning standards in schools to ensure every student receives optimal physical education. Going into effect for the 2015-16 academic year, school boards and school leaders can begin in 2014 to adapt curricula to meet the new standards and implement policies and practices to support enhanced physical education throughout Illinois.

Other ways school boards can help to ensure quality physical education in their schools include:

• Learn more about correlation between enhanced P.E. and academic achievement and the return on investment

• Update the district’s mission/vision statements to include statements concerning student and personnel health and well-being

• Update the local wellness policy to include a provision that students should spend at least 50% of P.E. class time in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity

• Ensure all students receive daily physical education

• Adopt use of the free version of FITNESSGRAM (via the Presidential Youth Fitness Program) to measure student fitness in schools; this helps students identify personal fitness improvement goals and teachers to personalize P.E. for their students

• Ensure physical education and health teachers have professional development and resources to enhance their academic programs

• Recommend that schools limit their P.E. class size to the same as other core academic subjects

• Ensure alignment of science, social-emotional, and physical development and health curricula; align PE with the Common Core standards

• Hold a local school board meeting at least once annually that’s dedicated exclusively to P.E. and wellness

• Provide leadership in communicating the value of P.E. to parents and community

Schools can start enhancing their P.E. programs now with two free resources. One is entitled, “Get Fit & Flourish: Enhanced Physical Activity Manual,” which provides a variety of lesson plans and activities for teachers to help elementary school students develop the skills needed for life-long physical activity. Another is the “Enhanced P.E. Resource Guide,” which links to a variety of curricula, professional development, and assessment resources. Information about these programs is also available by contacting Janna Simon, Illinois Public health Institute, at 312-850-4744.