School-based eye exams lead to better detection of problems, increased student performance

An education funding package approved by Oregon legislators will help bolster school-based vision screening for thousands of Oregon students.

COURTESY PHOTO: OREGON LIONS SIGHT & VISION FOUNDATION - Elementary school students wait in line to have their eyes tested with an imaging device during a vision screening procedure. Funding for a school-based vision screening program recently was doubled.Building on funds set aside through a 2017 Oregon Senate bill, the Oregon Department of Education budget for the 2019-21 biennium includes $1 million more — double the funding from 2017 — in funds for student eye exams.

Public school students and preschools have partnered with approved providers to provide on-site vision screenings for children.

Through state-allocated funds, organizations like the Lions Sight and Hearing Foundation provide the tools and resources for a more robust vision test than the antiquated eye charts typically used in school nurse's offices.

Since the introduction of the program in the 2017-18 school year, Oregon Lions Sight and Hearing Foundation has conducted the majority of exams in more than 100 school districts throughout Oregon.

The $2 million in funds allows the Education Department to reimburse school districts for the costs of the vision screenings, via a Vision Health Account, according to the Oregon Lions.

"We screened just under 180,000 students this past school year," said Doug Thompson, executive director of the foundation. "We're the largest program in the country doing this."

Thompson said the process used by his foundation is not a comprehensive eye exam, but uses new technology to help identify potential sight impairments like near- or far-sightedness, astigmatism, or amblyopia, commonly known as "lazy eye," early on.

"What we utilize is a relatively state-of-the-art technology," he said. "It captures a 365-degree image of the child's eye that can identify 11 different health issues."

Once the screening is done, the results are sent to parents. Thompson said the catalyst for the bill is to catch potential vision problems early on, as undiagnosed eyesight impairments can prevent students from reading at their appropriate grade level and performing to their full potential.

"Good vision is vital to school success, but 10% to 15% of Oregon students arrive on their first day at school with uncorrected vision problems, and we know this percentage is even higher among our most economically disadvantaged students," said Dr. John P. Lowery, chief of pediatrics for Pacific University EyeClinics.

Furthermore, the Oregon Optometric Physicians Association notes children rely on vision for an estimated 80% of their learning during the first 12 years. The association also notes that 25% of school-age children have vision problems and 60% of students identified as problem learners have undetected vision problems.

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