The National PE Standards Set the Structure — You Provide the Paint

Whoosh! A flying disc soars through the air and makes its way to the target — right between the hands of the fourth-grade student, who then smiles at their perfectly executed clap catch.

“Great catch!” exclaims the student who threw the disc, looking pleased as well. Their backhand is coming along.

Across the field another disc flies through the air, this time to a moving target. This receiver misses the catch.

“Sorry. I threw it too far,” the thrower apologizes.

“It’s okay. It was a good throw, just too far. We’ll get the next one,” says the receiver.

Students around the field are throwing and catching discs, learning movement skills, encouraging one another, and enjoying physical activity in the process. 

The teacher watches, supervises and offers students feedback, reflecting on the effectiveness of their lesson plan in real time. There are always adjustments that can be made for improvement, but the lesson is going well.

Students are headed toward the intended outcomes, a critical component of any lesson design … outcomes based on standards. 

National Standards — What Are They?

SHAPE America’s National Standards & Grade-Level Outcomes for K-12 Physical Education outline what a student should know and be able to do as a result of a highly effective physical education program.

Educational systems and disciplines around the world implement standards that outline the achievement expectations for students. An article from the University of Wisconsin-Superior (2019), details the place of standards in educational programming:

“Standards-based education, therefore, involves using predetermined standards to plan the scope and sequence of instruction, as well as what activities and materials will be used to achieve the goals of each standard. Assessments are used in standards-based education to determine the ongoing progress of students, which will drive instruction choices, and to document that students have reached mastery of the standards for each grade.”

In many ways, standards are both the beginning and the end of the instructional planning process. There are currently five National Standards for physical education. Branching down from each standard are types/categories that correlate to each standard and specific goals known as grade-level outcomes.

The example below illustrates how standards, type/categories, and grade-level outcomes relate to each other:

  • SHAPE America National Standard 4:
    The physically literate individual exhibits responsible personal and social behavior that respects self and others.
  • Type/Category:
    Working With Others
  • Grade-Level Outcome (Grade 4):
    Praises the movement performance of others both more skilled and less skilled. 

The category of Working With Others and the very specific outcome of praising the movement performance of others both more skilled and less skilled cascade down from Standard 4. 

The Structure Supports Success

While some maintain that standards can be too prescriptive and restrict teaching, we believe they provide a stable support structure.

Consider a house: The frame of the house is equivalent to the educational standards. The sturdy structure provides the support to build the goals of a student’s educational experience. Designing the interior of the house is at the discretion of the teacher as they facilitate the student’s educational experience. It is the “how.”

Referencing the example in the section above, the teacher’s goal is to lead students to exhibit responsible personal and social behavior that respects self and others. More specifically, the goal for the fourth-grade students is to praise the movement performance of others both more skilled and less skilled. That is the “structure.”

How the experience is facilitated to meet the goal is completely up to the teacher. A teacher can design activities, use prompts/questioning techniques, and encourage reflection. Teachers can focus on building a community of respect, understanding and acceptance. The “how” isn’t bound by the standard. If anything, the standard provides multiple avenues for exploration that can be tailored specifically to the population of students a teacher serves.

Structures and Standards Change

Sometimes building codes for houses change to account for new research or to improve the quality and safety of the home. Standards are no different. Educational standards are always evolving in order to reflect our changing world, current research, and the needs of the students we teach.

Since the current set of National Standards were published in 2013, our world and our students have changed. The focus of education has shifted to inclusion, an emphasis on student choice and personal experience, and a move toward recognizing social justice as a teachable skill under the larger umbrella of education.

Standards throughout the educational systems around the world are changing to fit the needs and lives of our new generation of students. 

You Have a Voice

In 2021, SHAPE America began the process of revising the National Physical Education Standards. The task force in charge of this is undergoing a lengthy, detail-oriented, research-based process with numerous opportunities for public review.

Standards provide the structure for curriculum and, in many ways, students’ success. They are the framework for our profession and for our students. You have an important role in helping us build a sturdy structure.

As a stakeholder, please be sure to make your thoughts known throughout the process by participating in town halls and completing surveys during periods of public review and comment. The first of these surveys — to provide public review and comment on the new Guiding Principles and Student Attributes documents — will be open from April 4-May 16, 2022.

When the new set of national standards is done, it will be time for you to pick out some new paint and carpet. The house you build for your students is going to be awesome!

Featured image by John Kinnander on Unsplash.

Additional Resources

Jonathan Jones

Jonathan Jones is a 15-year physical educator in Prince George's County, MD, serving as an elementary teacher and PE resource teacher. In 2018, he was named SHAPE Maryland Elementary Physical Education Teacher of the Year. He also serves on SHAPE America’s EDI Committee and National Physical Education Standards Task Force. He can be reached on Twitter at @J_JonesPE.

Dan DeJager

Dan DeJager is a National Board Certified high school teacher and university lecturer in Sacramento, CA. He is also a member of SHAPE America’s National Physical Education Standards Task Force. In 2019, he was named SHAPE America National High School Physical Education Teacher of the Year. He can be contacted through Twitter @thepechallenge or by email at