Holly Mitchell effort to get eye tests for pre-schoolers passes 1st grade

April 16, 2015

SACRAMENTO, CA —Calling for students entering elementary school to get comprehensive eye exams by a physician, optometrist or ophthalmologist, Senator Holly J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) successfully made the case to the Senate Education Committee that schools and parents should know before reading instruction begins in first grade if a child has visual challenges: her bill to do that, SB 402, has been approved by the panel and continues forward toward enactment as law.

“In the online era, reading has become more critical to achievement and the child who doesn’t learn to read early or easily is likely to fall behind and stay behind,” noted Senator Mitchell. “Children living in poverty are more likely to be left in the dark educationally, but every child can be helped by identifying and addressing obstacles to learning when schooling begins.”

Current school vision testing only checks a child’s ability to see letters one eye at a time from 20 feet away. That test cannot assess how well the eyes are able to converge on a page in a book or device held close to the face. About 20% of children have problems seeing at reading distance. Both reading speed and fluency are diminished by poor eye coordination.

SB 402 will ensure that the exams evaluate a range of visual functions, not just whether a child can see the blackboard from the rear of the room. School nurses will be able to monitor students for vision-related issues and to communicate with parents about needed follow-up sooner – important for families raising children in poverty or ineligibility for some health benefits.

The bill is sponsored by the California Board of Optometry and is supported by the California Federation of Teachers and the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network.