Children spend more time in school than with their parents or at home. Likewise, parents spend much of their time working, whether they work from home or outside. Making sure our kids get their annual eye exams, dental checkups, and assorted other follow up appointments takes time that many people simply don’t have. Having vision screening at your child's school can potentially provide important information about their children’s eyesight. However, the question of their reliability deserves to be looked at.
The short answer is that these screenings are not particularly accurate. Or, perhaps more accurately, they are not comprehensive. These screenings, which are generally just a simple eye test with a vision chart, cannot substitute for the sort of comprehensive exam a child would receive at an eye doctor, who will have access to devices that’ll more accurately examine both the child’s vision and check for overall eye health.
These screenings are often performed by people who are not eye care professionals, so there may also be issues with the way the test is carried out and the results calculated. Additionally, the tests are not carried out in a properly controlled environment (in contrast to a doctor’s office), so other factors, such as the lighting and distractions, can influence the results and lead to incorrect conclusions.
They simply cannot detect many of the visual problems children may experience. These include near vision issues, eye tracking, focus, and the ability of the eyes to work together while reading from a book or computer screen--both things extremely important when it comes to schoolwork.
Vision screenings provide less than 4% of the information generated during a comprehensive eye exam and miss up to 75% of children with vision problems. (American Optometric Association)
The main concern with in-school screenings is that parents will rely on them and not have them properly examined by an eye doctor, believing that passing this simple exam means they have perfect vision. This mistaken belief can lead to issues not being detected and treated, which in turn can lead to the problems getting worse over time before action is finally taken. If the problems continue and get worse, that can negatively impact their learning capabilities over time.
While we have just established the limitations of in-school vision screenings, there can be some value to them. For example, if your child fails the screening, they likely have a serious vision issue and you should schedule an appointment with your eye doctor as soon as possible. Perhaps because they view these screenings as a mere formality, many parents do not bother having their child get properly examined if they fail a screening. Subsequently, as much as 67 percent of children who fail vision screenings do not receive a proper examination or vision care from an eye doctor.
You wouldn't rely on an overly simple screening carried out by people who are not professionals in that specific field, for checking other aspects of your health. Your eyes--your children’s eyes, in this case--deserve the highest level of care.