Why a National Standard for Adapted Physical Education?

Federal law mandates free and appropriate public education services for all children with disabilities. Subsequently, the law mandated that these services be provided by “qualified professionals”. The definition of special education within this law included the discipline of physical education. Interestingly, physical education for children with disabilities was the only specific curricular area identified. Although physical education for children with disabilities was specifically addressed in the Federal legislation, the State Educational Agencies were given the responsibility to interpret the term “qualified professionals” within their respective states in order to develop or amend existing certification and/or licensing qualifications. Unlike other special education areas (teachers of individuals with intellectual disability, learning disabilities, etc.), most states unfortunately did not have defined certifications for teachers of adapted physical education. While approximately 14 states have subsequently defined an endorsement or certification in adapted physical education, 36 states and eight territories have not defined the qualifications teachers need to provide adapted physical education services to their students with disabilities.

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 that they did not know what adapted physical education was, how individuals with disabilities could benefit from appropriate physical education programming or what competencies teachers needed to deliver appropriate physical education services to students with disabilities. In response to this need, it was recommended that the NCPEID develop professional standards and a means for evaluating these standards.

Adapted Physical Education is a field which draws upon more than a hundred years of history, having its roots in the 19th century efforts at medically directed remediation of disabilities. Since then, a whole body of scientific research has expanded our understanding of the field to the point where it now constitutes a knowledge base appropriate for a specialist. The field continues to grow exponentially and keeping up with it is essential if students who require APE are to receive the full benefit of the instruction to which they are entitled. The only realistic means available to school districts and parents for ensuring that those students are receiving that benefit is to rely on a National level certifying authority to maintain an updated Standard and to regularly certify that its members are current in their understanding and practice of those skills and knowledge.