What was causing the gap in reading performance between poor and wealthier Baltimore students? Johns Hopkins University researchers wanted to know and in 2014 began investigating whether the gap might be due to poor students’ need for eyeglasses. As an eyecare professional, it is disturbing to note that studies over the last 10 years indicate that poorly performing students are frequently misdiagnosed with behavioral disorders or special education needs when the root of the problem is uncorrected vision, a comparatively easy fix.

To begin, Hopkins researchers initially screened several hundred second and third-grade students for vision deficiencies and gave two free pairs of eyeglasses to about 60 percent of them, as needed. Researchers then tracked the school performance of those students for one year. They found that reading performance improvement for the group that received glasses was significant when compared to students who did not need glasses.

In May 2016, the Baltimore Health Department formed a coalition with Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins School of Education, Vision to Learn and the Warby Parker Foundation. The project, Vision for Baltimore (V4B) has a goal of visiting 150 schools to screen 60,000 children in kindergarten through eighth grade, then use the data to address the gap in reading performance. While V4B plans to give out 8,000 pairs of glasses, that is only 20 percent of the estimated need. The program is scheduled to be completed this summer, and as of December 2018, they had distributed more than 5,000 pairs of glasses.

The process begins with in-school vision screenings. Next comes a scheduled visit from the Vision to Learn mobile vision clinic, where an optometrist examines children who failed the vision screening. An optician assists children who need glasses with selecting their frames. When the glasses have been completed, the optician returns to fit them.

As children began to receive and use their glasses, it wasn’t just reading performance that improved. The principal of an elementary school reported that about 25 percent of her students received their glasses in March 2018, and she soon noticed improvements in students’ performance and their self-esteem. It’s a cycle for success: Children see better, school attendance improves, school performance improves, and self-esteem improves. All because of a pair of glasses!

Learn more about the importance of good vision for children with the CE course in this issue, “Kids, Contacts and Quality of Life” at 2020mag.com/ce.

Linda Conlin
[email protected]