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How Free Eyeglasses Are Boosting Test Scores in Baltimore

Three years ago, Johns Hopkins University researchers in Baltimore asked a seemingly simple straightforward question: Could the persistent gap in reading performance between poor students and wealthier ones be closed if they gave the poor students eyeglasses?

They knew that poorer students were less likely to have glasses than wealthier white children, but data were limited on whether simply helping children better focus on the page in front of them might improve their ability to master a skill essential for early learning. They screened several hundred second- and third-graders, gave two pairs of eyeglasses to the ones who needed them (about 60 percent of the group, based on a uniquely liberal prescribing standard) and then they tracked their school performance over the course of the year. The outcomes were notable enough even with the small sample size—reading proficiency improved significantly compared with the children who did not need eyeglasses—that the researchers in conjunction with private sector partners and the city of Baltimore decided to radically expand the study to the whole city to see if the results held.


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