Test Instruments Used in Adapted Physical Education

This is an excerpt from Adapted Physical Education and Sport-6th Edition by Joseph WinnickD & avid L. Porretta.

Many published tests are available to physical educators. Most of these tests are standardized and tend to have established levels of validity and reliability, provide norm-referenced or criterion-referenced standards, and require controlled testing environments. Some of these tests, however, do contain alternative elements such as rubric scoring systems (e.g., TGMD-2) or task-analysis sequences and checklists (e.g., Special Olympics coaching guides).

Available tests in physical education measure a range of traits and abilities. Most, however, fall within five traditional areas of physical and motor development and ability: reflexes and reactions, rudimentary movements, fundamental movements, specialized movements (including sport skills, aquatics, dance, and activities of daily living), and health-related physical fitness. (Note that these categories are somewhat arbitrary and do not encompass all possibilities. In some situations, for instance, teachers might routinely test and assess the posture or the perceptual - motor abilities of their students.) More recently, a sixth area, physical activity, has gained attention. The rest of this section is devoted to a discussion of tests or measures from these six areas. One instrument from each area is highlighted. The highlighted instruments are meant to be representative of a particular content area and are recommended or used by many adapted physical educators. Other tests are available within each area, and teachers always have the option of designing alternative measures to augment or replace published instruments. In adapted physical education, there are always circumstances when published instruments prove to be inappropriate for a particular student, and teachers must modify or design instruments in accordance with the student’s abilities. (Additional tests are listed in the resources section of this chapter.) The application example illustrates how tests can be used.

Measuring Reflexes and Reactions

The measurement and assessment of primitive reflexes and postural reactions is an important consideration in those with developmental delays, particularly in early intervention and childhood programs. (See chapter 19 for information on reflexes and reactions.) As educational services are extended to infants and toddlers, as well as to persons with more severe disabilities (especially those that are neurologically based, such as cerebral palsy), physical educators need to understand the influence of reflexes and reactions on motor development milestones and motor skill learning.

Because primitive reflexes normally follow a predictable sequence for appearing, maturing, and eventually disappearing, they are particularly helpful in providing information on the maturation of the central nervous system. If a primitive reflex persists beyond schedule, presents an unequal bilateral response (e.g., is present on one side but absent or not as strong on the other), is too strong or too weak, or is completely absent, then neurological problems might be suspected. When primitive reflexes are not inhibited, they will undoubtedly interfere with voluntary movement because muscle tone involuntarily changes when reflexes are elicited.

The adapted physical educator should collaborate closely with a physical therapist to identify the presence of primitive reflexes and postural reactions and further determine an appropriate motor intervention to minimize the effects of the reflex through (a) central nervous system integration, (b) maximizing functional movements through reflexive action, or (c) both. Most adapted physical education programs seek the expertise of the physical therapist who has specialized training in this area. Many early motor development tests incorporate testing of specific reflexes, but all generally involve manipulation of the body to determine evoked responses and spontaneous behaviors (Zafeiriou, 2004).

Application Example

Determining if a Student Should Be Assigned to an Adapted Program


A new 10-year-old student with mild intellectual disabilities received special education services, including adapted physical education, at his previous school. As a matter of policy, the district will reevaluate the student before determining proper programs and placements. A physical education teacher is invited to be a member of the IEP team.


How should the physical educator determine if the student should be assigned to the adapted program?


The physical educator might do the following:

  • Administer the BPFT to determine if the student’s fitness is sufficiently developed. (The expectation would be that the student would achieve at least specific standards for children with intellectual disabilities.)
  • Administer the TGMD-2 to determine if fundamental movements are completely developed. (Maximum or near-maximum scores would be expected for a 10-year-old.)
  • Compare standardized test results (i.e., BPFT and TGMD) with the district guidelines or criteria for adapted physical education.
  • Place the student in one or more trial placements and collect authentic assessment data. (Determine, for instance, if the rubrics being used by other members of the class are reasonably appropriate, with or without modification, for the new student.)
  • Consider all assessment data when formulating a recommendation for the IEP team.

Measuring Rudimentary Movements

Rudimentary movements are the first voluntary movements (see chapter 19). Reaching, grasping, sitting, crawling, and creeping are examples of rudimentary movements. Most instruments that assess rudimentary movements use a developmental approach to testing - that is, a series of motor milestones associated with specific ages is arranged chronologically and tested individually. By determining which behaviors the child can perform, the teacher can estimate the child’s developmental age (because each milestone has its own age norm) and suggest future learning activities (i.e., the behaviors in the sequence that the child cannot currently do). The Peabody Developmental Motor Scales (PDMS-2) is an example of this approach, with some additional enhancements (other instruments are discussed in chapters 21 and 22).

Peabody Developmental Motor Scales

  • Purpose: The PDMS-2 (Folio & Fewell, 2000) assesses the motor development of children from birth to 83 months in both fine and gross motor areas. Items are subcategorized into the following six areas: reflexes, stationary (balance), locomotion, object manipulation, grasping, and visual - motor integration.
  • Description: A total of 249 test items (mostly developmental milestones) are arranged chronologically within age levels (e.g., 0-1 month, 6-7 months, 18-23 months), and each is identified as belonging to one of the six categories being assessed (e.g., reflexes, locomotion). It is recommended that testers begin administering items one level below the child’s expected motor age. Items are scored from 0 to 2 according to specified criteria. Testing continues until the ceiling-age level is reached (a level for which a score of 2 is obtained for no more than 1 of the 10 items in that level). Composite scores for gross motor (reflexes, balance, locomotion, and object manipulation), fine motor (grasping and visual - motor integration), and total motor (combination of gross and fine motor subtests) areas of functioning can be determined.
  • Reliability and validity: Empirical research has established adequate levels of reliability and validity. Evidence information is provided for subgroups as well as for the general population.
  • Comment: The PDMS-2 appears to have certain advantages over other rudimentary movement tests. First, the large number of test items represents a larger sample of behaviors than exists in many other tests. Second, the six categories help teachers pinpoint exactly which areas of gross motor development are problematic. Finally, the scoring system and availability of normative data provide the teacher with more information on student performance than many other tests do. Supplementary materials, including a software scoring and reporting system and a motor activity program, also are available in conjunction with PDMS-2.
  • Availability: Pro-Ed, 8700 Shoal Creek Boulevard, Austin, TX 78757-6897. Website: www.proedinc.com/customer/default.aspx. Note: The PDMS-2 is currently being revised at the time of this writing.

Measuring Fundamental Movements

The critical window of opportunity, the time during which experience has the most influence on developing fundamental motor skills, seems to be the early childhood and early elementary years. Fundamental movement skills can be classified as locomotor (traveling, e.g., jumping), nonlocomotor (stationary, e.g., one-foot balance), or manipulative (object control, e.g., throwing). Some fundamental movement test instruments measure how far the performance has progressed along a motor continuum, but most use a point system to evaluate either the process of the fundamental movement or its product. Process-oriented approaches generally attempt to break down (or task analyze) a movement into its component parts and then evaluate each component individually. This approach assesses the quality of the movement, not its result. Product-oriented approaches are concerned primarily with outcome. Product-oriented assessment is more concerned with the quantity of the movement (e.g., how far, how fast, how many) than with its execution. The TGMD-2 emphasizes a process-oriented approach to the assessment of fundamental movements.

Test of Gross Motor Development-2

  • Purpose: The TGMD-2 (Ulrich, 2000) was designed to measure gross motor content frequently taught in preschool and early elementary grades, including special education; to be used by various professionals with a minimum amount of training; to use both norm-referenced and criterion-referenced standards; and to place a priority on the gross motor skill process rather than the product of performance.
  • Description: The test measures locomotor (six test items) and object-control skill functioning (six test items) and provides an overall indication of gross motor functioning. Locomotor subtest items include the run, gallop, hop, leap, horizontal jump, and slide. Object-control subtest items consist of the two-hand strike, stationary dribble, catch, kick, underhand roll, and overhand throw. For each skill, the tester is provided with performance criteria used to assess the child’s performance. Children receive 1 point for meeting each performance criterion given for each of two trials allowed. These criterion-based scores can be added and compared to norm-referenced standards in order to make summative evaluations regarding locomotor, object-control, and overall gross motor performance. Percentiles, standard scores, and chronological age equivalents can be determined for assessment purposes.
  • Reliability and validity: Reliability coefficients are quite high (generally .84 to .96). Acceptable levels of content-related, criterion-related, and construct-related validity are provided.
  • Comment: The sound process of test construction should provide the user with a good deal of confidence that scores obtained by children accurately reflect their fundamental movement abilities. Availability of both criterion-referenced and norm-referenced standards enhances the capability of the test to support eligibility, placement, IEP planning, and instructional decisions. Test scores allow for easy monitoring of student progress and reporting to parents.
  • Availability: Pro-Ed, 8700 Shoal Creek Boulevard, Austin, TX 78757. Website: www.proedinc.com/customer/default.aspx. Note: The TGMD-2 is currently being revised at the time of this writing.

Measuring Specialized Activity Movements

A wide variety of possible physical education and sport activities could be tested under this category. Sport skills tests can take many forms, but often they are criterion referenced and teacher constructed (in fact, many teachers prefer to use authentic techniques to assess game and sport skills). Often, when teachers measure learning progress in relatively unique skills taught in physical education (e.g., wheelchair locomotion or functional performance using the treadmill at a local health club), a rubric is developed and used. Teachers who work with students with disabilities who compete in special sport programs, including those offered by multisport organizations (e.g., United States Association of Blind Athletes [USABA]), are encouraged to develop their own tests specific to the event in which the athlete competes. One example of a sport skills test that can be used for athletes with disabilities comes from the Special Olympics coaching guides.

Sport Skills Program Guides

  • Purpose: Special Olympics, Inc., provides coaching guides that can complement or supplement existing physical education and recreation programs for people with disabilities (aged 8 and older) in sport skills instruction.
  • Description: Guides are provided for 32 sports and recreation activities. Although the guides are not test instruments per se, authentic assessment is a critical aspect of the instructional programs recommended in the guides. Assessments consist of both task analyses and checklists. Testers check off task focal points that the student is able to perform. For instance, in athletics there are 14 test items corresponding to track and field events. Within each checklist, testers check the focal points an athlete can demonstrate (e.g., "Performs a single-leg takeoff for a running long jump.").
  • Reliability and validity: No information has been reported, but content validity probably could be claimed because the checklists reflect sport skills task analyses developed by content (specific sport activity) experts in the field.
  • Comment: A primary advantage of the coaching guides is convenience - a teacher or coach can adopt the existing task-analysis curriculums for many sport activities and further modify accordingly for specific students and situations if needed. The program has been used with participants with intellectual disabilities for some time and has been shown to have good utility for that group. A disadvantage is that neither reliability nor validity of the various test instruments has been formally established.
  • Availability: Special Olympics, Inc., 1133 19th Street NW, Washington, DC 20036-3604. Website: http://resources.specialolympics.org/Taxonomy/Sports_Essentials/__Catalog_of_Sports_Essentials.aspx.

Measuring Health-Related Physical Fitness

Because health-related physical fitness is an increasing concern in the health and well-being of young people, it is crucial to use fitness tests that provide meaningful data and allow sound instructional decision making. Over the years many standardized tests of physical fitness have become available to teachers. The BPFT is one test that is recommended to measure and assess the health-related physical fitness of young people with disabilities. The BPFT (Winnick & Short, 2014) extends the health-related, criterion-referenced approach to young people with disabilities. Access to the proper techniques for conducting the 27 tests in the BPFT has been included with this text. See Accessing the Web Resource for instructions on gaining access to the web resource.

Brockport Physical Fitness Test

  • Purpose: The BPFT (Winnick & Short, 2014) is a health-related, criterion-referenced physical fitness test appropriate for young people (aged 10-17) with and without disabilities.
  • Description: The test battery includes 27 test items (refer to table 4.2) from which teachers can choose based on disability. Typically, students are tested on four to six test items from three components of fitness: body composition, aerobic functioning, and musculoskeletal functioning (muscular strength, endurance, and flexibility). Although specific test items are recommended for children with intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, visual impairments, spinal cord injuries, and congenital anomalies and amputations, teachers are encouraged to personalize testing. Personalization involves identifying health-related concerns pertaining to the student, establishing a desired fitness profile for the student, selecting components and subcomponents of fitness to be assessed, selecting test items to measure those components, and selecting health-related, criterion-referenced standards to evaluate fitness. Thus, teachers have the option to modify any of the elements of the testing program as outlined in the test manual. Both general population and disability-specific standards are available for assessment and evaluation. A general standard is one appropriate for the general population and has not been adjusted in any way for the effects of a disability. A specific standard is one that has been adjusted for the effects of a disability. Specific standards are available only for selected test items for particular groups of people.
  • Reliability and validity: The test items in the BPFT have been shown to be valid and reliable through various studies. Evidence for validity and reliability is provided in a lengthy technical report published in a special issue of Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly 2005 (Winnick, 2005).
  • Comment: The BPFT was patterned after Fitnessgram, and many of the standards, especially for the general population, were adopted from that test. Thus, teachers in inclusive settings should find it relatively easy to use both tests as necessary. In addition to the test manual, a training guide is also available (Winnick & Short, 1999).
  • Availability: Human Kinetics, P.O. Box 5076, Champaign, IL 61820. Phone: 800-747-4457. Website: www.humankinetics.com/products/all-products/Brockport-Physical-Fitness-Test-Manual-2nd-Edition-With-Web-Resource.

Measuring Physical Activity

Much research has established the positive relation between regular physical activity and health, and many physical education programs are promoting physically active lifestyles as a primary goal of the program. Consequently, it is becoming increasingly important for physical educators to objectively measure physical activity levels in ways that are sensitive enough to document change. At present, four types of activity measures are available to teachers: heart rate monitors, activity monitors (e.g., pedometers, accelerometers, motion sensors), direct observation, and self-report instruments (Welk & Wood, 2000). Despite their accuracy, heart rate monitors have limited applicability in school situations because of cost and limitations in measuring students in large classes at one time. Pedometers are relatively inexpensive and accurate and have good utility for measuring walking activity, but they do not have broad applicability in measuring general physical activity. Coding student activity through direct observation is not expensive, but it can be time-consuming because only a few children can be monitored at one time by a trained observer. (These three approaches - heart rate monitors, activity monitors, and direct observation - might be more effective in settings with fewer students.)

Self-report instruments are appropriate for measuring physical activity in most school settings. Self-report instruments require students to recall and record their participation in physical activity over a set amount of time (usually from one to seven days). Although many self-report instruments are available (see Welk & Wood, 2000, for examples), all seek to quantify the frequency, intensity, and duration of students’ physical activity. If students with disabilities have difficulty with self-reports, teachers or parents might need to provide an estimate of the information instead. A computer software program, Activitygram, provides teachers with an easy method for measuring student physical activity.


  • Purpose: Activitygram (Cooper Institute, 2017), a program associated with Fitnessgram, records, analyzes, and saves student physical activity data and produces reports based on those data.
  • Description: Activitygram is part of the Fitnessgram test program. The program prompts participants to recall their physical activities over the previous two or three days in 30-minute time blocks. Students select activities from within six categories: lifestyle activity, active aerobics, active sports, muscle fitness activities, flexibility exercises, and rest and inactivity. Students are also asked to rate the intensity of the activity (light, moderate, vigorous). Activity Log, a related component of Activitygram, allows students to track their physical activity (in step counts or minutes of activity) and to set personal goals and challenges. Activitygram and Activity Log printed reports provide an analysis of activity habits and personalized messages that give suggestions to increase or maintain physical activity. Recommendations are based on national guidelines endorsed by the Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE America).
  • Reliability and validity: Because of the subjective nature of self-report measures, measurement error may reduce validity. Nevertheless, the Previous Day Physical Activity Recall instrument, on which the Activitygram program is based, has been shown to provide valid and reliable estimates of physical activity and also accurately identifies periods of moderate to vigorous activity (Weston, Petosa, & Pate, 1997). Measurement error can be minimized when parents, teachers, and others can verify activity measures.
  • Comment: Although designed primarily with students without disabilities in mind, Activitygram can be useful for students receiving adapted physical education. Specific activities will vary (e.g., running vs. pushing a wheelchair), but the six categories of physical activity are appropriate for most students with or without disabilities. Younger children and those with intellectual disabilities, however, might have trouble recalling and entering activity data. Peer tutors, teacher aides, or parents could be prepared to make direct observations and could enter the data on behalf of a student who has difficulty using the system.
  • Availability: Human Kinetics, P.O. Box 5076, Champaign, IL 61820. Phone: 800-747-4457. Website: www.humankinetics.com/products/all-products/Fitnessgram-Administration-Manual-5th-Edition-With-Web_Resource.

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