Need to keep a sharp eye on school vision tests

An eye chart seen through a pair of glasses. (Photo: Coprid, via Shutterstock)

With all that we do to try to help our children succeed at school, we are failing to properly screen students for correctable vision problems that can hinder learning.

A measure under consideration by state lawmakers, however, would boost learning and lifelong health by connecting students with comprehensive eye exams and glasses at little to no cost to families.

The vision tests administered in school fail to detect one in three children with significant vision and eye health problems

School children today spend much of their day with their eyes fixed upon tablets and laptops, whiteboards, blackboards and books. If they have impaired vision, it can cause students to struggle and even be improperly labeled with other learning disorders.

And although it sounds like something simple, vision screenings conducted at schools often miss vision disorders because they are not comprehensive enough.

Vision disorders are the most prevalent disabling childhood condition, with one in four children and adolescents suffering vision problems that can impede their learning.

Eye problems are not limited to near and far sightedness. Other disorders can affect children’s eyes and lead to permanent visual impairment. Eighty percent of learning happens through the eyes.

Current state law requires school vision screenings for students that test their ability to read an eye chart from a distance. But the vision tests administered in school fail to detect one in three children with significant vision and eye health problems, according to the National Commission for Vision and Health.  These superficial tests also do not screen for serious concerns such as diabetes or eye cancers that threaten vision and health.

A comprehensive eye exam by an optometrist or ophthalmologist is an important complement to screenings performed by school nurses, allowing for the detection of the full range of disorders that affect children’s learning and test for significantly disabling conditions.

AB 1110 by Assemblywoman Autumn Burke will promote learning and lifelong health by requiring comprehensive eye exams upon starting school. It respects parents’ right to opt-out of the examination requirement.

Many parents aren’t aware that the Affordable Care Act guarantees children a comprehensive eye exam and glasses. The law guarantees young people under the age of 19 years comprehensive eye exams, and glasses if needed, covered through their private or public health insurance plans.

AB 1110 will educate parents about this benefit and the crucial role comprehensive eye exams play in their children’s learning and overall health, especially in communities including diverse communities where health costs and barriers to care put extra burdens on families. A national study of preschoolers found Hispanic children experience astigmatism at the highest rate of any ethnic group.

It’s our responsibility as caregivers and elected leaders to provide California’s children with every possible opportunity to succeed. AB 1110 will open doors so children can see all the possibilities before them.

Ed’s Note: Dr. Amanda Dexter is an optometrist at Invision Optometry in San Diego.  


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