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Indian River Study

Standard screening methods miss a significant number of vision problems in young children. In a recent study of 82 elementary school children enrolled in remedial reading programs, 22% were found to have significant vision problems that had not previously been identified by standard screening methods. Two children were found to have strabismus. Four students were found to have amblyopia; none of these students were identified as having had prior vision intervention.

In that same study, the Snellen chart proved to be the least effective in identifying potential problems that can interfere with learning. Of the 24 students found to have significant vision problems, the Snellen chart identified only 9 (missing nearly 63% of the problems); the Titmus machine missed 25%.

Seminole County Remediation Project

In a more recent study conducted by Seminole County and Florida's Vision Quest, 722 elementary school students enrolled in Seminole County's summer remediation program were screened with a hand-held auto-refractor (PediaVision). Of those, 168 failed the screening (23%), and 139 required eyeglasses (20%). This raises more questions than it answers. How many children are failing academically who simply have an undiagnosed vision problem?

One essential step toward closing the gap between those who can and those who cannot read proficiently is to target vision intervention for low achieving, low income students, and schools with high minority populations.

Full School Vision Intervention Projects

The FVQ "Full School Vision Intervention" programs provides vision screening, exams and new eyeglasses (when needed) for all students in selected low performing, high poverty schools. Typically, 30-45% of the school population will require eyeglasses. Of the schools participating in this program, school grades released by the Florida DOE this week revealed following:

School 2009 2010 County
Catalina Elementary School D B Orange
Mascot Elementary B A Lake
Memorial Middle School D C Orange
Golden Gate Middle School C B Collier
Walker Middle School C B Orange

Following a similar program, Mollie E Ray (Orange Co) and Warfield Elementary School (Martin County) both improved from an F to an A – the principals credit the fact that all students could see clearly enough to learn to capacity.

What is also notable is the fact that FVQ provided full school vision intervention for Triangle Elementary School (Lake County) for 4 consecutive years 2005-2008. During these years, the school grade improved from a D to an A. Last year, we were not able to provide this service and the school grade declined from an A to a D.

Reading and Poor Vision – Case Statement

Over the past decade, Americans have become increasingly concerned about the high numbers-and costs-of high school dropouts. In 2007/08, there were 538,000 households headed by a non high school graduates. Every student who does not complete high school costs our society an estimated $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes, and productivity. High school dropouts also are more likely than those who graduate to be arrested or have a child while still a teenager, both of which incur additional financial and social costs.

Behind these statistics, as one military expert notes, lies a "demographic surprise": The current pool of qualified high school graduates is neither large enough nor skilled enough to supply our nation's workforce, higher education, leadership, and national security needs.

An estimated 75% of Americans aged 17 to 24 cannot join the U.S. military-26 million young Americans-most often because they are poorly educated, involved in crime, or physically unfit, according to a report by Mission: Readiness.

The process of dropping out begins long before a child gets to high school. It stems from loss of interest and motivation in middle school, often triggered by retention in grade and the struggle to keep up academically. 421,000 Florida students were retained in 2007/2008. A major cause of retention is failure to master the knowledge and content needed to progress on time-and that, in a great many cases, is the result of not being able to read proficiently as early as fourth grade.

In a recent Seminole County Summer Reading Project, 20% of students in remediation programs were found to have significant vision problems requiring eyeglasses. The time has come to build a consensus around some less-recognized but urgent facts:

  • One child in four is born with poor vision
  • 80% of learning is visual from birth to age 12
  • 7 out of 10 troubled youth have undiagnosed vision problems

Without early diagnosis and intervention, these children are at the greatest risk of reaching the fourth grade without learning to read proficiently. And that puts them on the dropout track. Three quarters of students who are poor readers in third grade will remain poor readers in high school, according to researchers at Yale University. Not surprisingly, students with relatively low literacy achievement tend to have more behavioral and social problems in subsequent grades and higher rates of retention in grade. According to the Better Vision Institute, 7 out of 10 troubled youth have undiagnosed vision problems.

The shortfall in reading proficiency and the increase in vision problems is especially pronounced among low-income children. Of the fourth-graders who took the reading proficiency test in Florida in 2009, fully 64% scored below reading proficiency levels and 72% of low-income students who attend high-poverty schools-failed to reach the "proficient" level. At the same time, data collected by FVQ and Orange County School vision screening teams found low income students in Title One schools failing the vision screenings at levels as high as 50%.

Disparities in reading achievement persist across racial and ethnic groups. The share of low-income Black, and Hispanic, students who score below proficient on the national reading test in Florida is catastrophically high (82%, and 69%, respectively) and much larger than the share of low income white or Asian/Pacific Islander students (55% and 44%). These percentages mirror the percentage found by FVQ of low income Black and Hispanic students who fail the vision screening as compared to their low income White and Asian counterparts. These relationships are profoundly important to all of us who see school success and high school graduation as beacons in the battle against intergenerational poverty.

The fact is that the low-income fourth graders who cannot meet proficient levels in reading today are all too likely to become our nation's lowest-income, least skilled, least-productive, and most costly citizens tomorrow. Without a dramatic reversal of the status quo, we are cementing educational failure and poverty into the next generation.

The bottom line is that if we don't get dramatically more children on track as proficient readers, Florida will lose a growing and essential proportion of its human capital to poverty, and the price will be paid not only by individual children and families, but by the entire State.

One essential step toward closing the gap between those who can and those who cannot read proficiently is to target vision intervention for low achieving students and invest in follow-up vision exams and glasses for low-income families.