Historic childhood vision experiment reveals what we should have seen from the start

It may seem obvious that children who see better will do better in class. But just because it’s obvious doesn’t change the hard truth: in the United States alone, more than 2 million children don’t have the glasses they need.

Today, the largest study of its kind to date provides further evidence of how things could be different for many of these children.

In a landmark experiment involving more than 2,000 students from over 100 Baltimore public schools, hundreds of children in grades 3 through 7 received free eye exams and glasses.

The “Vision for Baltimore” study – conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the nonprofit Vision To Learn – sought to answer a simple, but as yet unknown, question: the free glasses provided by Can School Vision Programs (SBVP) Improve School Performance?

“A clear demonstration of the academic impact of SBVP has not been made in the United States, to our knowledge,” says the team, including lead author and ophthalmologist Megan Collins, in a new article.

To close this gap, a mobile eye clinic visited hundreds of schools as part of the Baltimore experiment, offering free eye exams and glasses to hundreds of school children with visual impairments – while hundreds of children from other schools did not benefit from the intervention, serving as a control group.

When the reading and math test scores of the two cohorts were compared a year later, the group that received the free eyeglass intervention saw significant improvements over the control group, especially among girls. , students in special education and students from the lowest performing quartile at the start of the experiment.

“We have rigorously demonstrated that giving children the glasses they need helps them be successful in school,” says Collins.

“The glasses offered the greatest benefit to the kids who needed them the most – those who really struggled in school.”

But while experience strongly suggests that school-based vision programs can dramatically improve children’s learning and academic performance, the results have not gone so far.

The secondary outcome of the trial – measuring the performance of the intervention after two years – showed that the impact of the program had diminished after two years, with academic improvements not being sustainable.

As to why, the researchers suggest it is possible that students wore their glasses less over time, or that the vision correction offered by the glasses became ineffective over time (as eyesight of students has changed).

If so, the results suggest something else that’s pretty obvious: Just one pair of glasses can dramatically improve your worldview, but the effects are as current as your prescription.

“Collectively, these results highlight that to maximize the impact of PVS, they must not only provide glasses, but also ensure mechanisms for monitoring wear, replacement, and connection with community eye care clinicians for eye care. long lasting, ”the researchers write in the study.

While there is more research and refinement to be done here – including managing the program in other cities, and collecting more data on demographics and student needs, and also by studying the intervention in young children – the key to remember is crystal clear.

“The study provides evidence that glasses not only help children see more clearly, but also achieve academic success,” the researchers conclude.

The results are reported in JAMA Ophthalmology.

About Marion Alexander

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