Using an ordinary computer lab, a Colorado school district is working with a software maker to streamline vision tests for students in the first, fourth, and ninth grades.

“We’ve been doing vision screening the same way since probably World War II,” said Sue McCarroll, coordinator of health services for the Aurora Public Schools. Last year, she piloted a new approach with 400 students. She used a software product called VisionRx, she said.

VisionRx software performs clinical eye-tests and is used by motor vehicle departments, health care practitioners, and other places where it’s important to test vision.

McCarroll said she wanted an easier way to do mass vision-testing in her district. Currently, vision testing requires a large room and lots of staff or school volunteers to coordinate the effort and process students.

Lately, finding enough people to help has become a problem. “We used to do vision screening with parent volunteers, but we don’t have enough stay-at-home parents anymore,” McCarroll said.

Additionally, the sooner students can be tested at the beginning of the school year, the sooner those with vision problems can be referred to an optometrist.

McCarroll also wanted an easy way to test new students entering the district and a way to record and analyze the data to help determine how often vision tests should occur.

Currently, schools use the Snellen Chart—which consists of rows of text that get smaller and smaller—to test vision. Patients simply read one line at a time on a chart for as far as they can.

The Snellen Chart only measures distance-vision acuity, while VisionRx software measures visual acuity, color, contrast, and field of vision.

“All of those things add up to a child’s total vision,” said Jeffrey Stewart, chairman and founder of VisionRx. “Parents think their child’s vision is being tested, but in reality only one parameter is being tested.”

McCarroll tested students’ ability to see close up and at a distance in a computer lab with 10 computers. “The test requires nothing specialized in the way of hardware, just a normal computer and monitor,” Stewart said. The software can be accessed online or from a CD-ROM.

The students had to log in into the VisionRx web site using an identification number, their name, and birth date.

As the students went through the test, they had to cover each eye alternately and sit either 18 inches or 3 feet from the computer monitor. Each user receives a random test, so no one can memorize or circumvent the chart.

McCarroll said the hardest part was getting the students to follow the directions. The first-graders had to be instructed to cover their eye and sit properly.

“The ninth-graders needed to be told to slow down,” McCarroll said. “They treated it like a video game, and they wanted to win.”

Realistically, she said, one adult could administer the test properly to two first-graders or three ninth-graders at the same time.

The test can’t be rushed, or the results won’t be accurate, so it took much longer to administer the test than it did with the old system, McCarroll said.

But she thinks that will improve as the snags get worked out. “I feel optimistic that they are using it in the department of motor vehicles in a couple of states—that tells me it’s doable,” McCarroll said.

Traditionally, the administrative work required for eye-testing is laborious and mundane, McCarroll said. The test results are written by hand onto a screening card for each student. The nurse then collects all the cards, picks out the failed cards, and sends a notice home to parents.

With VisionRx, the entire process is automated. The software automatically scores the test and stores the results. It also prints a report on demand and runs a statistical analysis.

The software can even been customized to print a letter automatically for the parent of each student who needs to be referred.

McCarroll said it’s possible that early detection of vision problems could help some students learn better.

“Kids with vision problems may have trouble focusing on a textbook or [the blackboard],” McCarroll said. “If they can’t see, they are going to be distracted, and that will lead to bad behavior.”

According to Stewart, several studies suggest a strong correlation between vision problems and bad behavior.

“One in four children has a vision problem significant enough to affect learning,” he said. “Seven out of 10 juvenile delinquents have had vision problems at one time.” He added that some students are diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder “when all they need is a pair of glasses.”

VisionRx plans to charge schools a fee for each test administered, Stewart said.


Aurora Public Schools