The Test Every Kid Should Take Before Heading Back to School

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By Dr. Mary Anne Murphy, OD, owner and practitioner of Front Range Eye Associates in Denver, Colorado and board member at VSP Global / Kim Bjorklund, third grade teacher at Mary Tsukamoto Elementary in Elk Grove, California

Vision problems can make life harder for people at any age, but they can be especially damaging for a child’s school performance and overall wellbeing. Although most schools offer vision screenings throughout the year, they are not the most reliable way to track a child’s eye health. Amid back-to-school season, VSP asked a teacher and an eye doctor to comment on the findings of a recent survey, “How Parents See Eye Health,” and what parents can do to make getting a back-to-school eye exam easy.

Here are key findings from the survey, which was conducted by YouGov and VSP Vision Care and focused on 1,000 US parents:

  • Three in four parents (76 percent) said sight is the most important sense; but only 50 percent take their kids for an annual eye exam. By comparison, nearly 75 percent of parents take their children to the dentist and primary care doctor each year
  • Less than 10 percent of parents know the recommended age for a child’s first comprehensive vision assessment (six months)
  • One in five parents (21 percent) did not take their kids to the eye doctor for the first time until they were school age (at least five years old)
  • One in 10 parents (13 percent) has never taken their kids to the eye doctor
  • Among parents who do not bring their children to the eye doctor annually, 72 percent of moms and 48 percent of dads said they would be motivated to do so if their child complains of discomfort or changes in vision
  • More than one-third (37 percent) of moms said they don’t take their kids to the eye doctor because they already get a school vision screening; even though 50 percent said the eye doctor exam is more comprehensive

Dr. Murphy’s Take

We know that one in four kids has a vision problem. And the problem is the worst it has ever been. According to a recent study by the USC Gayle and Edward Roski Eye Institute, visual impairment in preschool children will increase 26 percent, affecting almost 220,000 children over the next 45 years. That is a real barrier to these children’s educational and social development.

Chances are you know the name of your family physician and dentist. But what about your eye doctor? Many parents are stumped. Half of US parents aren’t getting their own eyes checked regularly, according to VSP findings, and it’s likely they’re not taking their child for an eye exam either.

This may sound surprising. Getting clothes, shoes and school supplies commands parents’ back-to-school budgets and schedules. But kids rely on their eyes as much as, if not more than, any of these items. Eighty percent of learning happens through the eyes, which means undetected vision problems can adversely impact academic and social achievements for years to come.

According to the recent “How Parents ‘See’ Eye Health” survey, 74 percent of parents take their kids to the dentist before school starts, and 76 percent of them take their kids to the pediatrician. But just 50 percent of parents make an appointment with an optometrist.

As a working mom to school aged children, I understand how hard it is to fit in an additional doctor’s appointment into a packed summer schedule. But as an optometrist, I have also seen how a comprehensive eye exam can improve someone’s life.

As parents, we want the best for our kids. Booking an eye exam is a small investment that could help bring about a year of success in the classroom. This is why I urge my patients, friends and all parents I know to make a habit of getting their child’s eyes tested every back-to-school season.

Resources for Parents


Ms. Bjorklund’s Take

As a teacher, I know that children speak up when something is wrong. I’ve dealt with plenty of scrapes and stomachaches to attest. But the symptoms of many vision problems are “silent” so kids won’t speak up. That’s why I advise my students’ parents to take their kids to the eye doctor regularly, instead of waiting until they complain about not seeing clearly. It truly takes a village of parents, teachers, school nurses and optometrists to give kids the eye care they need.

For many students, school eye screenings are the first time their eyes are checked. However, school vision screenings only check for vision distance (known as 20/20 vision). That’s only one of 17 visual skills required for success in school, and 10 percent of children who pass a vision screening actually have a vision problem that needs correction.

I have seen this scenario play out in my classroom. One of my former students struggled with focus and concentration, which understandably negatively impacted his grades. Mid school year, he got glasses and he was a changed student – notably more confident and attentive. He even told me that he “felt smarter.” I loved seeing this transformation. It is incredible how a child’s confidence in the classroom soars once they have the right tools for learning.

My children are adults now with kids of their own, but I still remember the rush of back-to-school season and the long to-do lists for getting my girls ready for school. I know how busy it gets and how hard it is to fit in one more appointment. However, having experienced firsthand the positive impact an annual eye exam can have in ensuring a child’s success in the classroom, I view it as a small investment that parents can make to help their child thrive in school, at sports and in life.


  • […] One in four (27 percent) said their kids already get their eyes checked at school; while one in five (20 percent) said once a year is unnecessary. This is just one of many misconceptions that the survey identified. […]

  • Steven E Allen says:

    I am at Vision Works and they can not find my plan.

  • Gerry Ginter says:

    While I agree wholeheartedly with this article, it is lacking a little depth because it does not address what the other visual problems can be for children in a learning environment. I wish I had known how problems with tracking, depth perception and peripheral vision can affect one’s ability to read proficiently.
    My daughter received annual vision checkups and was tested twice by a psychologist to try to figure out what was interfering with her reading which finally resulted in a “mild dyslexia” diagnosis.
    The uncovering of the depth perception problem and peripheral vision problem remained undiscovered until junior year in high school, when trying to learn to drive became an issue. We then took her to a visual training center to help with the problems and learned that these issues are interfering with reading proficiently as well.
    Long story short, visual exams administered by a knowledgeable physician are necessary!!! Not being able to do well in school, an environment your child spends a lot of time in, is very damaging to their self esteem.

  • Where was this VSP survey by Dr. Murphy published. Please provide reference

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