The past century has seen a revolution in the way society views people with disabilities and in the way that people with disabilities see themselves. The 21st Century is the beginning of an era where people with disabilities are considered to be individuals who possess a different set of abilities than the majority of the population. As such, they constitute a minority, one with a rich perspective and diverse capabilities which they are ready, willing and able to share with society at large.
A person’s readiness to share is fundamentally connected to one’s sense of self esteem. A major component of that self esteem is derived from how comfortable one is about one’s self – one’s ability to set goals and achieve them, to share common interests with friends and acquaintances and to have a sense of being “alive”.
It has long been known that involvement in physical activity contributes substantially to a person’s sense of well-being and so Physical Education has long been a component of the American education system. For most of these early programs, Physical Education for people with disabilities consisted of medically inspired efforts toward remediation of their “condition”. However, during the second half of the last Century, society began to view people with disabilities as having a valueable yet modifiedset of abilities. This required a different approach to Physical Education. Programs in higher education identified the need that persons teaching Physical Education must also know how to address children with disabilities. The specialty of Adapted Physical Education emerged to address the needs of people with disabilities.
People with disabilities constitute a minority in the truest sense of the word, and in the spirit of the times, the Federal Government enacted legislation mandating equal opportunity in education for this group. In 1990, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was passed, requiring that all people with disabilities, of school age, have access to Physical Education in a normal school environment. It further required that each student with a disability have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) drawn up which would include a program of adapted physical education appropriate to the individual.
A problem within this legislation is that each State is left to define what Adapted Physical Education means with respect to complying with the legislation. It is easy to see, however, that the requirement that all students with disabilities have access to Adapted Physical Education and an IEP could overtax the skills and capabilities of the regular Physical Education teachers who are saddled with that responsibility.
Faced with this problem in the Spring of 1991, the National Consortium for Physical Education and Recreation for Individuals with Disabilities (NCPEID) in conjunction with the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE) and Special Olympics International conducted an "Action Seminar" on adapted physical education for state directors of special education and leaders of advocacy groups for individuals with disabilities. This conference had two goals: (a) identify the barriers that were preventing full provision of appropriate physical education services to individuals with disabilities; and (b) establish an action agenda for addressing and resolving these problems.
Although numerous barriers were identified by the group, the most significant for state education leaders were:
- State education leaders did not know what adapted physical education was
- They did not recognize how individuals with disabilities could benefit from appropriate physical education programming and
- They were not aware of what competencies teachers needed to deliver appropriate physical education services to students with disabilities.
In response to these identified concerns, it was recommended that the NCPEID develop professional standards Adapted Physical Education and a means for evaluating these standards. These products could then be used by state and school administrators as well as parents to communicate the need for adapted physical education and to evaluate who was qualified to provide physical education services to students with disabilities.
The "Action Seminar" recommendations were presented to the NCPEID Board which voted unanimously to assume responsibility for developing national standards for the field. A proposal was submitted to the United States Department of Education (USDE) which then provided funding for five years to develop national standards and a national certification examination for the profession.
The first year, 1992, was devoted to conducting a national job analysis to determine what roles and responsibilities adapted physical educators were being asked to address in their jobs. The second year focused on developing and validating content standards based upon these roles and responsibilities. The third year involved developing and evaluating a database of over 2,000 test questions from which to develop a set of certification exams. The fourth year was devoted to conducting a national validation study on the test items. Finally, the fifth year focused on creating and administering the first national certification exam which was conducted at 46 sites across the country on May 10, 1997.
Subsequent to this project, a validation study was conducted on the APENS exam and this was the subject of a Doctoral dissertation by Timothy D. Davis. This analysis showed that the 100 questions on the exam did indeed measure the applicant’s competence to carry out the job of an Adapted Physical Education teacher.