Students who want to know how they've improved in class have lots of ways to check: classroom tests, state-mandated standardized tests, even quarterly grades include some yardstick for checking academic development.
A student weak in one skill can see where they need to apply themselves to become a better balanced, more rounded student.
One area where there hasn't been any measurement for comparison is fitness and athleticism, however—something an innovative company is working to correct.
Last week, Tom Newman and Justin Szeto, of Rhode Island-based Athletic Standard, spent a day at Hillsborough High School, running student athletes through a series of measured tests that are used to determine not just straight times or distances, but calculate scores that can be used as guides for development.
"With these guys coming in and giving our students these tests, it's giving us a standard," Hillsborough High School's fitness trainer Jim McFarland said. He said the information is useful to the school in several ways—it can help pinpoint areas am athlete may need to develop to prevent injuries, and it can help give any student a personal goal for fitness.
McFarland said athletes usually spend all their time focusing on skill building—spending time constantly playing their favorite sports, or working with a specialized trainer.
"What it comes down to is our kids are working on skill building—but we're not actually training in fitness," he said.
Athletic Standard has been working with Hillsborough students—both varsity athletes, younger athletes and the general student populations—for about three years, and McFarland said he seen a decrease in injuries among the school's varsity athletes, which he says is at least in part due to the informaiton gained from the testing.
Newman said the company has a database of information on athletes collected over about 30 years, which has been used to develop logarithms that are applied to a student's test results to prove a more meaningful score.
He said the value of the score is that it creates a more level comparison between participants. For example, an overweight student who can only jump 15 inches in a vertical jump may feel inferior next to the towering and muscular student with a 30-inch vertical jump.
But the two may actually have more comparable scores, since it may actually require more athletic skill for the heavier student to achieve.
And the scores give the students motivation to improve. During last week's tests, students were timed on 10-yard dashes, side-to-side sprints and vertical jumps, repeating tests given to the students in August.
Students naturally improved on most raw times—they're growing teenagers, after all—but real improvements became evident when they compared their final scores.
A case study is Nico Mukendi, who set both personal and school records in several tests, as well as his overall score. Using his test results and working with McFarland in the school's training and conditioning facility, he was able to increase his score from 1092 in August to 1373 now.
That score enabled him to get a chance to tryout for—and get—a spot on the U.S. men's handball team.
McFarland said he's currently using the test results to help develop five girls at the school who are "on the cusp" of qualifying for Olympic team tryouts this summer.
The testing is offered to the school without charge—Szeto, a 2003 graduate of Hillsborough High School, said funding from the U.S. Olympic Committee helps cover the general testing for its help identifying potential Olympians.
And while that's a part of what keeps Newman and Szeto going, Newman said he also enjoys watching kids learn they may have abilities they didn't know they had.
"There are a lot of great student athletes just sitting the bench," he said. "Pretty much, there's a sport or activity for everybody. We just have to help them find what's right for them."