A poor performance in this week’s NAPLAN (National Assessment Program) tests – particularly in grammar and spelling - could have more to do with a student’s undetected vision problem than any fault of their school or ability.
For years, Optometry Australia has campaigned to address the fact that a staggering 1 in 5 school-aged students have an undetected vision problem which prevents them from reaching their full educational, social and physical potential.
Now, a new study published in the International Journal of Educational Research in April, from researchers at Queensland University of Technology School of Optometry and Vision Science, has confirmed a distinct correlation between unsatisfactory vision screening results and significantly lower literacy and numeracy results in the national standardised tests.
Researchers found that almost a quarter of Grade 3 students from three Brisbane schools had unsatisfactory results and a further six had borderline results during vision screening conducted by optometry students under supervision. These 27 students were then referred to optometrists for a full eye examination. The main reasons for referral were refractive error, reduced visual acuity and problems with eye co-ordination.
Importantly, the children referred for a full eye examination scored significantly lower than those children who were not referred in all NAPLAN subtests, except writing. The lower scaled scores and achievement bands suggest that visual difficulties may be limiting classroom learning opportunities and impacting on the academic competencies of the children.
The researchers, Professor Joanne Wood, Dr Alexander Black and Shelley Hopkins from Queensland University of Technology School of Optometry and Vision Science, and Dr Sonia White from QUT’s Faculty of Education said the findings highlight the importance of early vision screening in identifying children who may be achieving below their potential.
Researchers concluded, a comprehensive vision screening on entry to formal schooling, as well as ongoing monitoring throughout school years, is necessary to ensure that children have the best start in schooling. This has important implications for both education and eye health professionals.
Optometry Australia encourages eye tests before school
Parents should make having an eye examination the first test that children do.
While some signs of vision problems are obvious, others are hard to identify, and children themselves usually can’t tell there is anything wrong as they assume everyone sees the world as they do.
This makes it crucial for children to have a full eye examination with an optometrist before starting school and then regular visits as they progress through primary and secondary school, as part of their general health regime.
Issues such as an increase in ‘screen time’, with many children spending more time indoors on smartphones, tablets and computers have been implicated in an increase in children with myopia (short sightedness) in recent years, he said. Parental supervision and regular breaks from these devices, spending two sun-safe hours a day outside, a healthy diet and a regular eye tests are the keys to good vision for life.
Some signs of vision problems in children can include:
- Noticeable tilting or turning of the head when the child is looking at something
- Frequent blinking or rubbing of the eyes
- Red or watery eyes
- Difficulty reading, such as skipping and confusing words, and holding a book very close while reading
- Complaints of headaches and blurred or double vision
- Squinting or having difficulty recognising things or people in the distance
- One eye turning in or out while the other points straight ahead
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