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What if?

Levy Foundation seed funding launches joint Wilmer Institute-School of Education study to improve children’s reading by improving vision
Posted May 19, 2016
Illustration by Agata Endo Nowicka Illustration by Agata Endo Nowicka

Reading proficiency at the end of third grade is a key predictor of life success. Non-proficient readers are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma when compared to their peers who can read well in third grade. Children who are both non-proficient readers and live in high-poverty neighborhoods are at even higher risk.

What if many of these children could be helped by a simple eye exam and a pair of glasses? Would that enable them to become proficient readers and lead more successful lives?

Those are the questions posed more than a year ago by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute and School of Education. To help answer them, the Robert M. and Diane S. Levy Family Foundation has given the researchers $500,000 in seed funding to launch phase one of the Baltimore Reading and Eye Disease Study. If successful, the study will lay the groundwork for important reform of public school practices and national education policy.

"The idea that many low-income kids just need some basic help seeing better made a lot of sense to us," says Bob Levy. "Giving them the gift of reading might be the single greatest boost to their future potential anyone could possibly provide. We got excited and had to help."

All testing equipment has now been acquired and more than 200 reading and vision assessments have been completed. Researchers report that the students are excited to pick out their eyeglass frames — each student receives one pair for home and one for school. Study leaders now seek to expand the study to include third-graders and complete assessments for 400 students. Follow-up exams are planned for this spring, after which preliminary results will be developed.

Advancing discovery by investing in this type of collaborative research is a major priority of Rising to the Challenge: The Campaign for Johns Hopkins.