Vision & Hearing Imperatives in Education
With the increased use and popularity of advanced electronics and technology, the demands on our young children’s eyes are greater than at any time in history. Yet, national data show that nearly 25% of students have undetected vision problems with many requiring glasses by the time they reach high school. While one in four children have an undetected vision problem, 85% do not receive eye exams before starting school.
In 1992, comprehensive eye tests were given to 322 students in three of New York City’s lowest performing schools. Some 40% required corrective lenses.
Studies show a clear correlation between good vision, literacy and achievement. In one report, eye movement therapy helped sixth-grade students with reading disabilities improve their learning rate from 60% to 400% in six months.
Treatable hearing problems that remain undetected can also impact a child’s ability to learn, making early identification, referral, and follow-up intervention imperative for students who have failed hearing screenings.
New York State currently mandates vision and hearing screenings for New York City public school students, and a Chancellor’s Regulation requires screenings to be conducted for all students in seven different grades—starting in Kindergarten—and for all new entrants. The New York City Dept. of Education, or DOE, and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene are obligated to jointly provide these services.
However, a new audit by the New York City Comptroller’s Office shows that many children are not being properly screened for vision and hearing problems. Specifically, the DOE’s performance displays an appalling lack of accountability when it comes to identifying vision and hearing problems that pose a significant risk to our children and their educational achievement.
A comparison of the screenings conducted by the DOE and the Health Department shows the disparity: while 94 percent of the Health Department vision screenings were conducted, only 42 percent of the DOE screenings were likewise undertaken.
With hearing tests, the DOE fares even worse: while the Health Department again conducted 94 percent of its screenings, the DOE completed only 20 percent.
Just as troublesome: there was limited follow-up to parents of students who failed the vision and hearing screenings. An astounding 69% of cases requiring follow-up did not receive it.
How many students are struggling unnecessarily in New York City classrooms today, falling behind for lack of glasses or hearing aids, because the City has neither screened them nor followed up on the cases of kids who failed their screenings?
It is beyond dispute that poor vision and hearing, if left uncorrected, profoundly and permanently affects a child’s ability to learn. The City’s failure to provide these vital, mandatory screenings is inexcusable.
Thompson is the Comptroller for the City of New York. Clemens is the Executive Director of the New York Children’s Vision Coalition. #