The (evidence-based) power of eyeglasses

Last school year, in the middle of the pandemic, getting services to students was hard, but in Minnesota Helen Keller Intl, a City Connects community partner, persisted.

“In a normal year, Helen Keller goes into schools and conducts eye screenings,” Laurie Acker, the City Connects Program Manager in Minnesota, says. “They also have an eye doctor who will give a complete eye exam if a student needs glasses.”

Last year, Helen Keller Intl brought its services to local Catholic Schools implementing the City Connects model.

“Of course it was a little bit more challenging because we had to wipe everything down and we could only have two kids in the room at one time. The coordinators were really instrumental in facilitating this process.”

Sometimes this meant getting reluctant students excited about new eyeglasses. “We try to help them feel good,” Acker says. Other times it’s a matter of sharing in the excitement.

And for one student, it was a matter of doing detective work.

“There was a kindergarten student who was struggling, and the teacher and the coordinator couldn’t quite figure out why,” Acker explains. “They thought it was because the student hadn’t gone to preschool. He also had parents who spoke limited English, so there could have been a language barrier. It could have been a question of just maturing.

“The teacher and coordinator tried everything, but the student couldn’t get a handle on his numbers and his letters. Then his eyes were tested, and they found out that he had a very severe astigmatism. He couldn’t identify numbers and letters because he couldn’t see them.”

Once he got glasses, he did better.

This young kindergartner isn’t alone in reaping benefits from eyeglasses. 

Last month, Johns Hopkins University shared the results of a three-year clinical study “linking access to eyeglasses with higher test scores, especially for students having the most trouble in school.”

“Reading scores increased significantly after one year for students who got glasses, compared to students who got glasses later. There was also significant improvement in math for students in elementary grades.”

In addition, “Researchers found particularly striking improvements for girls, special education students, and students who had been among the lowest performing.”

“The overall gains for students with glasses were essentially equivalent to two to four months of additional education compared to students without glasses… For students performing in the lowest quartile and students participating in special education, wearing glasses equated to four to six months of additional learning—almost half a school year.”

Parents, of course, don’t need to read the relevant research reports.

As Acker points out, “Parents are really just happy to have the support. They know that with new eyeglasses, their children are going to be better off.”

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