Physical education may soon be added to Iowa Core


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Iowa Department of Education officials said schools and their students should be more engaged in conversation about physical education.

State officials have asked the Iowa Legislature to add a physical education category to the Iowa Core — a set of academic standards and expectations for students at each grade level. The bill, currently on the House floor, could be passed to the Senate as early as next week.

Connie Maxson, the Department of Education's bureau chief for teaching and learning services, said the change wouldn't require educators to teach more, but it will change how they instruct their students.

"What it's going to be is talking and thinking more about the body," she said. "There's a big shift on the whole child, and the notion of teaching physical literacy."

Maxson said the content of the standards will remain the same but will be reorganized by ages instead of by grade levels.

Susie Poulton, the director of health and student services, said the Iowa City School District is better than other districts in some aspects. She said three schools have PE4Life grants — money that provides gym equipment — and several schools have promoted Iowa's Healthiest State Initiative by particpating in walks.

In 2010, Iowans Fit for Life officials assessed a group of third-graders in 29 Iowa school districts and found that 37 percent were overweight or obese.

Sarah Taylor Watts, the physical activity coordinator for Iowans Fit for Life, said child obesity is a big problem both in Iowa and nationwide.

"It would be great to raise the level of expectations for physical education," she said. "Anything we can do to set up the environment for success and make physical education a priority for students is great."

Maxson said though the expectations haven't changed, officials hope the new approach will better engage students in healthy lifestyles.

"We already have the content in the Iowa Code," she said. "We just haven't had the additional standards at the grade levels. There are some things, in terms of movements, that students should be able to do at certain age levels."

Fighting childhood obesity has become a topic on the national level with first lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign. Obama stopped in Iowa last week to recognize the campaign's second anniversary.

"Well, believe it or not, if you eat healthy food, you're actually more likely to pass your tests and to get good grades in school," she said during her visit. "Because being active and eating healthy are a big part of reaching all of your goals."

The Iowa Core includes standards for English, math, science, and social studies. The academic standards were signed into law in 2008.

All Iowa high schools were expected to have a plan in place for implementing the Iowa Core last summer, and all schools are expected to have a plan by this summer.

Ed Thomas, a physical-education consultant for the Education Department, said it was only a matter of time before officials wanted physical education standardized.

"It certainly deserves a place in the strategy … all studies that we can find indicate that the more physically literate a child is on average, the better they will perform academically," he said.

The change will ultimately allow for consistent learning opportunities for Iowa students, Mason said.

"It doesn't matter where you go to school in Iowa," she said. "You should have access to good content and instruction rationale for Iowa Core standards."

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