Effect of a Randomized Interventional School-Based Vision Program on Academic Performance of Students in Grades 3 to 7: A Cluster Randomized Clinical Trial

JAMA Ophthalmol. 2021 Oct 1;139(10):1104-1114. doi: 10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2021.3544.


Importance: Uncorrected refractive error in school-aged children may affect learning.

Objective: To assess the effect of a school-based vision program on academic achievement among students in grades 3 to 7.

Design, setting, and participants: This cluster randomized clinical trial was conducted in Baltimore City Public Schools during school years from 2016 to 2019 among 2304 students in grades 3 to 7 who received eye examinations and eyeglasses.

Intervention: Participating schools were randomized 1:1:1 to receive eye examinations and eyeglasses during 1 of 3 school years (2016-2017, 2017-2018, and 2018-2019).

Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome was 1-year intervention impact, measured by effect size (ES), defined as the difference in score on an academic test (i-Ready or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests on reading and mathematics) between intervention and control groups measured in SD units, comparing cohort 1 (intervention) with cohorts 2 and 3 (control) at the end of program year 1 and comparing cohort 2 (intervention) with cohort 3 (control) at the end of program year 2. The secondary outcome was 2-year intervention impact, comparing ES in cohort 1 (intervention) with cohort 3 (control) at the end of program year 2. Hierarchical linear modeling was used to assess the impact of the intervention. Analysis was performed on an intention-to-treat basis.

Results: Among the 2304 students included in the study, 1260 (54.7%) were girls, with a mean (SD) age of 9.4 (1.4) years. The analysis included 964 students (41 schools) in cohort 1, 775 students (41 schools) in cohort 2, and 565 students (38 schools) in cohort 3. There were 1789 Black students (77.6%), 388 Latinx students (16.8%), and 406 students in special education (17.6%). There was an overall 1-year positive impact (ES, 0.09; P = .02) as assessed by the i-Ready reading test during school year 2016-2017. Positive impact was also observed among female students (ES, 0.15; P < .001), those in special education (ES, 0.25; P < .001), and students who performed in the lowest quartile at baseline (ES, 0.28; P < .001) on i-Ready reading and among students in elementary grades on i-Ready mathematics (ES, 0.03; P < .001) during school year 2016-2017. The intervention did not show a sustained impact at 2 years or on Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers testing.

Conclusions and relevance: Students in grades 3 to 7 who received eyeglasses through a school-based vision program achieved better reading scores. Students had improved academic achievement over 1 year; however, a sustained impact was not observed after 2 years.

Trial registration: The Registry of Efficacy and Effectiveness Studies Identifier: 1573.1v1.