Objective Grading in Fitness Based PE with Heart Rate Monitors

I am very honored to have joined a great PE department at Shanghai American School (SAS) Pudong Campus this year.  At SAS there has been a fitness based PE program for over 10 years. This means the focus is on teaching fitness skills to students, then having them reflect on their fitness scores, while developing knowledge to construct their own fitness programs in the future.

At SAS our program works on physical participation. We want to see our students moving, and working hard and our lessons must be designed to have continuous movement while ditching from the old school “line up and kick the ball” approach. How do we know how involved the students are during our 75 minute block period? We us polar Heart Rate Monitors (HRM) that we require students to put on as they are changing before class.


Our first standard in the Middle School PE report card is “Active Engagement”. We assign each student to a HRM with a targeted heart rate zone that they must reach and maintain for at least 30 minutes per class to be Meeting the standard. Last week students completed a pre-test mile run and I have used those times to set heart rate levels on the monitors.

If a student runs  >11:00 low zone is set to160 BPM
If a student runs  10:00-11:00 low zone is set to 155 BPM
If a student runs  8:00-9:59 low zone is set to 150 BPM
If a student runs 7:00-8:00 low zone is set to145 BPM
If a student runs  6:30-7:00 low zone is set to 135 BPM
If a student runs  6:30 – 6:00 low zone is set to130 BPM
If a student runs  below 6:00 mins. low zone is set to125 BPM

In this way we are able to differentiate Targeted Heart Rate Zones (TZ) to make sure students are getting a moderate to vigorous physical fitness workout within our classes.  What does this eliminate? This eliminates subjective grading in PE. Gone are the days where you a student gets a “C” for a 10:57 mile. Well if that student is not fit and their heart is working very hard to get that time, then the HRM will show us the data and we will know this student is on the right track to becoming more fit.

Within a 75 minute block we give 5 minute change time at the beginning and end of each lesson. We ask Middle School students to stay above the lower end of their TZ for 30:00-39:59 of the 65 minutes we are in each lesson. We record the data at the end of each class as a daily grade. Grades are based off of the rubric below:

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Why do physical education this way? This program was developed over time based off of research by John Ratey that states that Fitness Based PE does three things for students throughout the school day: it creates better learners, better behavior, and better health in all students.

I am looking forward to the challenge of redesigning my lessons for all sports units to incorporate this Active Engagement standard into the lessons. While I will be teaching skills the majority of the focus and assessment will be on student participation.

Q1: How does your PE program measure/grade student participating?

Q2: What other forms of Quality Physical Education can measure fitness?

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