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Study Finds School Vision Screenings May Be Inadequate

June 24, 2011
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt

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A recent study from an SHSU researcher found that checking your child’s vision beyond the school vision screening is necessary.

Cristina Cruz-Wiley“Typical public school visual screenings test only a few of the necessary learning related visual skills,” said Maria Cristina Cruz-Wiley, a researcher at Sam Houston State University’s Center for Research in Educational Leadership.

Cruz-Wiley, a former optometrist in Colombia, conducted an investigation on the relationship among vision screening assessments and elementary students’ reading test scores, finding that the standard "School Vision Screening," the eye and vision exam conducted in every school yearly, only examines the quality of the child’s distance vision.

Consequently, many schools fail to identify far-sighted students, and their academic performance suffers, she said.

“Using the 'School Vision Screening' alone is problematic because the procedures for this standard screening vary from school to school in regards to personnel conducting the screening, lighting, distance from the Snellen chart,” Cruz-Wiley said. “Because these vision screeners are volunteers from the school, not trained ophthalmological professionals, they do not always comply with standards established by eye-care professionals, such as requiring students to read the chart at a distance of 20 feet, and at eye level.”

Cruz-Wiley also observes that how well children see at 20 feet has little to do with how well their vision functions at the reading distance level, which is 11 to 16 inches from the face. Currently, no exam is conducted regularly in Texas to determine how well children can see print or pictures at close distances.

“A solution for these problems would be for schools to administer other vision screenings in order to know how well students see at reading distance,” Cruz-Wiley said.

Instead, Cruz-Wiley advocates the regular use of the "Adaptive Vision Screening" and her "Teacher Observation Checklist for Vision Screening."

The "Adaptive Vision Screening" allows the evaluation of a wider range of functional vision problems that may be related to reading difficulties.

“For example, the children are observed in situations dependent upon the use of the eyes, they are made to perform paper and pencil tests where they are made to recognize visual forms, the degree of coordination between the two eyes is measures, as well as the postural position of the eyes, as well as a myriad of other tests which can determine visual acuity both near and far,” she said.

The "Teacher Observation Checklist for Vision Screening" indicates need for further evaluation of referral for professional care. Teachers are given a one-hour training session related to signs, symptoms and behaviors that could be observed in students who might display reading difficulties associated with vision problems, as well as a checklist to which they can refer.

“The checklist reminds teachers to notice if their students’ eyes appear to be abnormal, such as if they are frequently red or watery,” Cruz-Wiley said. “It also trains teachers to notice abnormalities in behavior, such as excessive blinking, tendency to rub eyes, and losing place while reading. Symptoms such as frequent headaches are also noted.”

Cruz-Wiley’s study included 152 students enrolled in third through fifth grades from elementary schools in Texas.

Her findings indicated that using the "Adaptive Vision Screening" and the "Teacher Observation Checklist" identified 14 percent more students in those grades who did not meet the state assessment reading standard as having vision problems than what the "School Vision Screening" alone had indicated.

“That is a significant number in terms of identifying vision difficulties related to reading, and furthermore, through the identification of [students’] vision needs, early intervention strategies can be designed for struggling students who are not achieving expected standards,” she said.

Cruz-Wiley identified the call for these two additional vision screenings to take place annually in schools, as they potentially will identify more students with vision problems, thereby “reducing some of the barriers and frustrations students (and teachers) may experience in school and could also raise awareness of educators, parents, and school nurses regarding the need for more comprehensive eye exams, treatments, and/or therapy.”

“It is now time prior to school starting again in August for parents to advocate for such screening in their children’s schools, or to have their children assessed outside of school by an eye-care professional,” she said.

Additional individuals assisting with the research were SHSU College of Education faculty members Barbara Polnick, Diane Reed, Rebecca Robles-Piña, Ruth Manny, Deborah Price, and Mack Hines.


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