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Third Graders Who Failed Reading Test Eligible for Free Eye Exam

Tonyatta Hairston, an optometrist and president of the Mississippi Optometric Association, said she has seen firsthand children who struggle in school and have behavioral problems because they cannot see clearly.

Tonyatta Hairston, an optometrist and president of the Mississippi Optometric Association, said she has seen firsthand children who struggle in school and have behavioral problems because they cannot see clearly. Photo by Stephen Wilson.

— Every third grader in Mississippi must pass the third-grade reading exam to be promoted to fourth grade. When a student fails the third-grade reading exam, it could mean they are struggling to read on grade level. It could mean that they are having vision problems, too.

"I can personally cite case after case of children who exhibit poor school performance and even behavioral problems because of their inability to see clearly," Tonyatta Hairston, an optometrist and president of the Mississippi Optometric Association, said last week.

The Mississippi Optometric Association and the Mississippi Vision Foundation will provide free eye exams for students with no insurance who failed the third grade reading assessment this year through July 31. More than 150 optometrists statewide are a part of the program.

In 2017, eight percent of third graders (more than 3,000) did not pass the third grade reading assessment on the first try. Of the third graders who saw optometrists after failing the test in 2015, 88 percent needed some sort of vision correction.

"We are not saying that an eye exam will solve every problem, but we do want to give every child the opportunity to not have obstacles with their reading," Hairston said at the Mississippi Department of Education. "Vision should never be a reason for poor achievement."

Last week politicians and business leaders praised the program, which connects the education and business sectors in the state.

"We're making great strides in Mississippi improving our test scores," Scott Waller, president of the state chamber of commerce, said at a press conference. "We must do everything we can to advance our students' ability to read."

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann's survey of Mississippi businesses found that the number-one need across the state is an educated workforce, and 40 percent of those businesses would expand if they could find qualified workers.

"The workforce of the future is going to require, at least right now, 50 percent or more have to have more than a high school degree to get a job, today," Hosemann said, discussing the necessity of partnerships between businesses and schools. "Ten years from now that's going to be 70 percent."

Hosemann, who has been traveling to schools throughout the state, said businesses are beginning to partner with school districts and community colleges to ensure that schools are offering the right post-high school job training and certification programs for jobs they have to offer.

Parents of children who fail the third grade literacy assessment can find an optometrist participating in the program at msvisionfoundation.org or call 601-572-0845.

Email reporter Arielle Dreher at arielle@jacksonfreepress.com.

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