Using Evidence to Advocate for High Quality Physical Education

Now that physical education is identified as part of a student’s “well-rounded education” in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), physical educators have the opportunity to enhance the status of our subject area in the school curriculum. We also have access to different funding opportunities through ESSA, such as Title I, II, and IV, to further improve the learning environment for students in physical education.

With these opportunities comes the expectation — as with other subject areas — to demonstrate evidence of student learning. In particular, ESSA prioritizes the importance of state-level accountability systems to the promotion of student learning.

Being able to show evidence is important because without it, people outside of the field cannot know the positive impact that high quality physical education can have on students.

Developing a Robust Accountability System

In 2018, we conducted a study to explore the current status of the state-level accountability system for student learning in physical education

The results showed that only 10 states out of the 48 states that responded to the survey have an accountability system in place. Based on the analyses of the 10 states, we identified critical components for establishing a robust accountability system (see the figure below).

Robust accountability system figure for High Quality Physical Education

First, we found four critical elements for a robust state-level accountability system:

  1. Legislation/Policy — Having mandated requirements for measuring student learning
  2. Data collection —  Obtaining and managing high-quality data on student learning
  3. Data monitoring —  Ensuring teachers accurately administer tests and assess student performance
  4. Data evaluation and dissemination —  Sharing data with stakeholders to communicate feedback for improvement

Implementing the Accountability System

In addition, we found that to execute those four elements of accountability systems, securing fundamental elements of school policy and environment (i.e., physical education as a required subject, required minutes per week, mandated certified teachers, and adequate class size) are essential.

Furthermore, we identified that the following factors could facilitate the execution and sustainability of accountability systems:

  • Stakeholder support and shared decision-making
  • Continuing professional development for school personnel
  • School-university partnerships and shared expertise
  • Advocacy efforts across multiple audiences and platforms

In the article, “Recommendations for Developing and Implementing State-Level Physical Education Accountability Systems in Student Learning,” which was published in the November/December 2019 issue of JOPERD, we provide key suggestions for developing and implementing state-level physical education accountability systems.

Action Steps for Key Stakeholders

In our JOPERD article, we also discuss action steps for key stakeholders within the process of developing and implementing state-level accountability systems, such as:

State boards of education (policy) and/or state legislators (legislation)

  • Ensure equitable resource distribution to physical education.
  • Establish legislation/policy for an accountability system specific to physical education.
  • Ensure that physical education has effective leadership in place at the state level within the department of education.

State education/physical education leaders

  • Advocate for the creation of legislation/policy that requires measuring student learning in physical education.
  • Establish a coalition to garner support from the legislature and/or state board of education.

District education/physical education leaders

  • Establish a data monitoring system collaboratively with state representatives to ensure the validity and reliability of the data. 
  • Provide regular training for teachers to stay current with the accountability system.
  • Provide leadership for the reflective cycle of the data use to improve physical education programming at the school level.

Physical education teachers/principals

  • Use the collected and reported data to improve physical education programming.
  • Provide adequate equipment and facilities for physical educators to implement a curriculum that meets physical education content standards.

State and national organizations

  • Support the development of state-level accountability systems (e.g., fund research initiatives, provide professional development).
  • Provide opportunities for state-level physical education leaders to share challenges and suggestions for the continued development of accountability systems.

We cannot rely on someone to develop an accountability system for physical education. Physical educators in the broadest sense must take collective action to move forward with developing and implementing the accountability systems.

People may argue that learning outcomes of physical education cannot be represented by numerical numbers. However, anecdotal evidence is not convincing enough to advocate for physical education, especially to persuade people outside of the field.

Additional Resources


Emi Tsuda
Emi Tsuda

Emi Tsuda is an assistant professor of physical education teacher education in the College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences at West Virginia University. Her research focuses on physical education pedagogy and policy. She can be reached via email.

James Wyant
James Wyant

James Wyant is an assistant professor of physical education teacher education in the College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences at West Virginia University. His research focuses on technology and policy within physical education. He can be reached by email or Twitter.