A report by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education and the American Heart Association has found that while nearly 75 percent of states require physical education in elementary through high school, over half of states permit students to substitute other activities for their required physical education credit, or otherwise fail to mandate a specific amount of instructional time.
According to the report, only six states — Illinois, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York and Vermont — require physical education at every grade level, from K-12. Just over half the country, 26 states, insist on some form of student assessment in physical education; branching off that, twice as many states now require physical education grades to be included in students’ grade point averages compared to 2010, when only 14 did so. Fitness assessments are only required in 27 percent of states.
Among the 33 states that allow students to substitute other activities in order to satisfy the physical education requirement, common allowances include Junior ROTC, interscholastic sports, marching band, cheerleading and community sports. Twenty-eight states permit schools or districts to grant exemptions or waivers for physical education time or credit requirements, though these are not necessarily the same states that allow substitutions. Commonly cited reasons for exemptions include health, physical disability, religious beliefs or early graduation.
There is no federal law that mandates physical education be provided to students in American schools, just as there are no incentives for states or schools to offer such programs. While states define guidelines and establish requirements, implementation is left up to individual school districts.