Minimum health standards too difficult for some Burbank students

Large percentages of Burbank Unified students fell well short of healthy fitness guidelines established by the state of California.

During a school board meeting this past Thursday, John Paramo, the district's director of secondary education, acknowledged that over half of district fifth-graders tested in 2017 did not meet minimum state standards though those numbers improve in middle school and high school.


Every year, the district conducts fitness examinations, as part of a program called Fitnessgram, with students in fifth, seventh and ninth grades.

The California Department of Education created standards for physical education in 2005 and requires districts test annually.

The Fitnessgram focuses on six areas consisting of aerobic capacity, body composition, abdominal strength and endurance, trunk strength and flexibility, upper-body strength and endurance as well as overall flexibility.

The aerobic capacity test, for instance, measures a child's ability to run a mile, while the body composition portion focuses on skin-fold measurements and body mass index.

A 13-year-old boy would need to complete at least 12 90-degree push-ups, eight modified pull-ups and 12 flexed-arm hangs to pass the upper-body strength and endurance test.

A 15-year-old girl would need a "trunk lift" between 9 to 12 inches to satisfy requirements for the trunk strength and flexibility portion of the exam.

In a trunk lift, a student lays flat on their stomach, with their arms to their sides, then the student lifts their upper body off the ground, and holds it up long enough to be measured.

California considers students who successfully complete all six tests to be in the Healthy Fitness Zone, while the minimum passing grade is the fulfillment of five of six standards.

Only 47.2% of fifth-graders met five or more standards, while the number jumped to 63.9% for seventh-graders and 68.5% for ninth-graders.

The number of fifth-graders, which fell almost 5% in two years, concerned board member Roberta Reynolds.

"In [the fifth grade], they've dropped from [52.6%] to 47% in the last two years… There appears to be something happening with that group of students," Reynolds said.

Paramo wasn't sure what accounted for the sudden drop.

"I noticed that as well," he said. "I honestly don't know how to explain that anomaly."

As for students who went six for six, only 21.5% of fifth-graders, 36.1% of seventh-graders and 42.5% of ninth-graders can count themselves in such company.


While the 21.5% of fifth-graders who completed all tests in 2017 is an improvement from 20.7% in 2016, the rate is still well below the high of 29.4% in 2013.

There was some strong improvement in the seventh and ninth grades, however.

Seventh-graders who passed all six standards rose from 26.3% in 2016 to 36.1% last year, which was the second best mark since 2011.

Ninth-graders' results of 42.5% was the best ever from the previous high of 41.7% last year.

Burbank Unified also beat state averages in most categories as more local students completed five or more standards in seventh grade (63.9% compared to the state's 54.9%) and ninth grade (68.5% compared to 58.2%).

If there was one consistently difficult test across the board for Burbank Unified students, it was body composition, which reported the lowest mark for seventh- and ninth-graders and second lowest for fifth-graders.

"Historically, most of our kids — middle school, high school and elementary – have the hardest time meeting the… body mass index," Paramo said of a big portion of the body composition test. "So, having said that, if you're not going to meet the body-mass index, then you have to pass every other one."

While 68.8% of seventh-graders hit the body-composition standard, that number dipped to 65.6% for ninth-graders and 61.9% for fifth-graders.

Outside of body composition, Paramo said upper-body strength is a concern for all three grades, with aerobic capacity also an issue for fifth- and seventh-graders.

Last year, 3,355 BUSD students were tested.

"We're getting ready to start the season again, to start testing in the next couple of weeks," Paramo said. "I think that this year's data that we don't have yet is going to be even better."