Report Shows Schools Cutting Recess to Focus on Testing, But Kids Learn Best When They Move More

September 28, 2010

Recess

HSC works to save recess because research shows that unstructured physical activity can be crucial to a child's development, helping to prevent obesity, supporting learning and teaching healthy habits for a lifetime.

But a recent story on University of Texas public radio station KUT reports that schools are cutting recess in favor of more prep for mandatory high-stakes testing. As the story points out, this move may actually hurt students' academic performance. This is something we've heard from school leaders across the country, and the story describes the issue well. The story points to a report by Children’s Optimal Health, which says that the students in Austin middle schools who are most likely to need extra help passing the state test live in the same area as kids who are more likely to be overweight or obese. The story says:

“We actually may be shooting ourselves in the foot by not allowing kids to get enough physical activity. There’s actually been several studies that have shown that kids who get more physical activity during the day do not do worse on standardized tests and may actually do better,” said Andrew Springer, a researcher at University of Texas School of Public Health.

The Texas requirement of 30 minutes a day of physical activity is better than a lot of states, but still only meets half the recommended requirements from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical education experts say you can’t substitute the organized play of physical education classes with the self-guided, independent exercise kids do at recess.

“Play is the single most effective way to get kids to be physically active, because it’s intrinsically motivated,” said Jill Violet with a non-profit called Playworks. “Play offers these incredible benefits because there’s no end. You win. You lose, but you keep playing. It’s not as goal oriented as other kinds of sports and things, or academics for that matter.”

The pressure that high stakes standardized testing is putting on recess is a national phenomenon.

“Kids should be getting at least 20 minutes per day of recess,” said Dr. Lindsey Turner, a health education researcher at the University of Illinois. “What our data show is that only about two-thirds of kids are getting that amount, which leaves a lot of kids not getting enough recess.”

To learn more, check out the Exercise & School Recess section of HSC's blog. We'd love to hear about efforts underway to save recess in your community!