Tag Archives: reading comprehension

child reading below grade level

Is Your Child Reading Below Grade Level?

Are you concerned that your child is reading below grade level? Many children find learning to read challenging, but some students struggle significantly more than others and fall behind their peers in their reading assessment scores.

Reading assessments measure factors such as vocabulary, decoding skills, and reading comprehension. The tests serve to identify reading competencies in individual students relative to a set standard.

When a student is considered to be reading at grade level, that child’s reading assessment score falls within the approximate range of the average score of a normalized standard sample of students in that grade level group.

When a student is considered to be reading below grade level, it generally means the child’s reading assessment score was lower than the average assessment score of students in the normalized standard sample for his grade level.

Some critics challenge the fairness of grade-level standards, arguing that the results only reflect how students performed relative to other students, rather than measuring the achievement of a certain proficiency. The relative nature of a grade-level standard does not take into account environmental factors and various advantages or disadvantages.

However, if a student is not doing as well as his peers or performing up to expectations on reading assessments, you will want to look into all possible causes.      

One common, but often overlooked, problem that may be hindering your child’s ability to read at grade level could be a functional vision problem that interferes with learning. A vision problem can cause a student to read below grade level, even with “20/20” eyesight.

Unlike typical eye exams, school standardized tests and reading assessments may require activities that are challenging for a child with a learning-related vision problem.

Routine vision screenings involve little more than testing to see if the child can see clearly at a distance for a few moments. Reading assessments and standardized tests often require intense and sustained focusing of the eyes for a prolonged period time, looking from the problem to the answer sheet repeatedly, and the ability to bubble-in answers without losing his place.

Undergoing assessments and testing for hours can intensify a problem that was not otherwise apparent during classroom or other reading activities, because the child’s eyes can become even more strained and tired than usual.

Poor visual skills that interfere with reading assessment performance include visual processing speed and accuracy, visual memory, selective concentration, visual-motor integration and speed, and visualization.

A few examples of learning-related vision problems that may cause a child to read below grade level include:

Eye tracking problems

Eye tracking skills are the eye movements we use to scan a line of text. Even in a normal healthy visual system, these movements are not smooth, left-to-right shifts. Instead, the movements are a series of “jumps” and “fixations.”

Reading requires the eye to jump across text and fixate on certain points; with each fixation, we take in either a whole word or part of a word while the eye is momentarily stationary. We decode and process each word, and then our eyes fixate on the next word and pause briefly to decode and process it.

Eye tracking problems can contribute to below grade level scores on a reading assessment.

Accommodative dysfunction:

An accommodative (eye focusing) disorder causes a person to have trouble using eye muscles efficiently to bring an object into focus clearly or to maintain focus for a sustained period of time. The muscles that focus the lenses in our eyes need to adjust often and quickly to see various visual points and planes clearly, or to sustain that clear focus over a period of time without vision becoming fuzzy or blurred.

If a child is struggling to focus his eyes during a reading assessment, he will see blurred text and slow down, contributing to a possible lower score.

Amblyopia (lazy eye)

Amblyopia causes reduced vision in one eye due to an abnormal or unhealthy connection between the child’s eyes and brain, which occurred during developmental stages. This common deficiency causes the brain to favor one eye over the other and suppresses images from the affected eye. Strabismus, for example, is a condition in which the eye is either constantly or intermittently turned, usually inward or outward, and the eye that points straight becomes dominant.

When a child’s brain preferences one eye over the other, the deficiency can cause strain or headaches, which can lead to reading below grade level.

Visual Processing Deficiencies

Many bright children lack good visual processing skills. Normal visual processing requires a complex system of neurological activity to develop and function properly. Because of a visual disorder or visual system developmental delay, a child may have trouble computing visual input, which can lead to difficulties with visual memory, visual-motor integration and speed, visualization, or other problems.

For example, visualization is the ability to create a mental image in one’s mind, which is important for processing and remembering information for comprehension. Visual memory is the ability to retain information that you have learned–to recognize and remember a word from one page to the next, and one day to the next. Reading requires the ability to create images of words and to recall words or set of words as needed.

Poor visual processing skills may cause a child to read below grade level.

To learn more about how important vision is to your child’s ability to read, download our free guide here and watch our pre-recorded webinar here.

If a vision problem is what’s preventing your child from reading at grade level, the good news is vision therapy can help.

The first step is to schedule an evaluation with a functional or developmental optometrist, trained to detect and treat learning-related vision problems, as soon as possible.

For a functional vision exam and vision therapy in Olney, Maryland or the Silver Spring area, contact the Visual Learning Center today to schedule a comprehensive evaluation with Dr. Philip Nicholson and his staff.

visual memory disorder

Visual Memory: Why Do Some Children Struggle to Remember Something They Just Learned?

Do any of the following scenarios sound familiar?

  • Your son studied for his spelling test. You drilled and quizzed him the night before, and he seemed to know his words; but his grade was much lower than you expected. He’s a smart kid, but his poor spelling is an ongoing challenge.
  • Your daughter learned to read a new word on page 5 of her book; but by page 25, she doesn’t even recognize the same word and struggles to read it all over again.
  • Your child can’t seem to remember his own phone number or address. He forgets details he’s read and can’t recall the order of events. You’re frustrated that he keeps forgetting things, and you’re starting to wonder if he’s ignoring important information out of carelessness.
  • Your kid has difficulty using a keyboard or calculator. Kids these days are whizzes at typing and texting, but she slowly hunts for each letter, number, and character.

Each of these behaviors could possibly indicate that your child has a visual processing problem — specifically, a visual memory disorder.

Visual memory is the ability to look at something, create a mental image for that thing, and hold that picture in your mind for later recall and use. In learning to read, a child must look at a word, recognize and recall individual letters and strings of letters, create a mental image for that word and associate it with a meaning, and hold that word picture in mind to see and retrieve later.

For children with strong visual memory skills, this process happens efficiently and without strained effort. If a child has a visual memory deficiency, however, the process is a struggle and affects the ability to learn easily.

Eighty percent of what we learn is visual; so being able to visually picture and remember what we see is a critical component of learning.

Discover more about how vision affects learning by watching this video for parents.

If a child has difficulty processing and storing visual information in his short-term memory, he will not be able to recall that information in his longer-term memory for later use. If he wasn’t able to properly input and store the mental image of his spelling word the night before, he is not going to recall and spell it correctly on his test the following day.

Strong visual memory is a critical skill for word recognition and reading comprehension. You may not have considered this before, but each word has its own unique shape — its own form, which we capture in a mental image — that we must instantaneously recognize while reading.

A student with a healthy visual memory function will be able to learn and recall a new word after being exposed to that word one time, or a few times. A student with a visual memory disorder has to be exposed to a word repeatedly, many times, before retaining it. They’re no less intelligent than their peers; they simply aren’t creating and retaining the mental image due to a skills deficiency.

When we read, we put words and phrases together with visual images to conceptualize meaning. If we can see pictures in our mind and form a clear mental image of what’s taking place in the text as we’re reading, it enables us to comprehend.

Once the visual information is taken in through the eyes, the process of comprehension has only just begun. Next, the brain runs the information through the process of visual perception to extract the information and use it.

Visual memory is what enables a child to recognize and remember letters, words, and their meaning. Recognizing, remembering, and applying information quickly and easily is critical for performance in reading comprehension, and student must have a healthy visual memory for ease of comprehension.

Poor visual memory is also a common cause for letter reversals. A student with a visual memory problem will be more likely than his peers to continue reversing letters, such as b and d or p and q, because they may recall the shape but not the correct laterality or directionality.

A typical routine eye exam will not detect a deficiency in visual memory. If you suspect a visual memory problem, schedule a comprehensive functional vision exam with an optometrist who specializes in functional or developmental vision care is trained to test for a visual memory.

Without well-developed visual memory skills children will struggle to learn. The good news is an individualized vision therapy program can improve visual memory skills significantly. In vision therapy, children complete activities created to enhance their memory so they can recall the visual information they take in more readily. Click here for vision therapy success stories.

If your family is located in Olney or Silver Spring, Maryland, contact Dr, Philip Nicholson’s Visual Learning Center to schedule a comprehensive vision exam today.

learning-related vision problems

My Child Learned to Read in Kindergarten But Now Reads Below Grade Level: What Happened?

One of the biggest points of concern and confusion that parents have when they come to us is that they know their child is bright, but he or she is struggling in school. We often hear from parents who say their child had no trouble at all learning to read in Kindergarten, but by third or fourth grade the child has fallen far behind grade level performance expectations.

One common, but often-overlooked, cause for reading problems that develop later in development could be a learning-related vision problem.

When your child first learns basic reading skills, they learn ABCs one letter at a time, often in large, bold, colorful, and even tactile forms. Then they begin reading simple sentences in picture books with large spacious text. Their school books and worksheets all contain large text with lots of space, both to accommodate children’s fine motor skills and to ease them into the reading process.

But by third or fourth grade, reading and close work takes up a significantly greater amount of time in the classroom and during homework; and the text print on book pages and worksheets is much smaller than when they were first introduced to reading. Students in third grade and beyond are also required to copy from the board throughout the day. And all of these seemingly reasonable requirements can be extremely challenging for a child with a vision problem.

Learn more about how vision affects learning by watching this webinar for parents.

Large text and space is easy on the eyes. Reading one letter at a time, or a short sentence surrounded by lots of white space is not difficult for children with learning-related vision problems. Likewise, these children can pass a typical eye exam or school vision screening, one letter or short word at a time.

But most eye exams do not test for functional vision problems that interfere with reading. A typical eye exam only tests to determine if your child can see clearly at a distance for a period long enough to complete the exam, not eye movement and visual processing problems that may affect your child’s ability to read for a sustained period of time.

A typical vision screening doesn’t check into how well the eyes work together as a team, how quickly the eyes focus when moving from one visual plane to another, how smoothly the eyes move across the page when reading, how efficiently the brain processes information taken in by the eyes, or a number of other areas of functional vision.

VLC-convergence-insufficiency

Reading requires the coordination of hundreds of eye muscles and steady oculomotor control. It also requires visualization, visual memory, and other skills for reading comprehension. If your child has an undeveloped vision skill, weakness, or deficiency, this can affect their ability to read.

Poor eye tracking, eye teaming, or focus leads to difficulty and frustration for a child, and the extra effort to take in visual information may cause fatigue, headaches, or the inability to maintain attention.

child-sees-2-01

So, while reading large-print individual words and short sentences for a few minutes in Kindergarten or first grade was easy for your child, reading small-print paragraphs throughout the day can be overwhelming.

Initially, you and your child’s teacher might suspect he is is being careless, distracted, or choosing not to pay attention You might assume he’s skipping unfamiliar or challenging words, because he’s lazy or uninterested.

However, children with learning-related vision problems don’t understand that their vision is to blame. They often grow frustrated, their self-esteem suffers, and they fall behind.

child-sees-1-01

That’s why it’s important that if your child is struggling with reading — particularly if they did not have trouble learning to read initially — that you find a developmental optometrist in your area who specializes in functional vision care. Schedule a comprehensive vision exam right away.

If your child’s reading troubles are related to vision, that’s actually good news. Because once he or she receives a proper diagnosis, a personalized and intensive vision therapy program can lead to significant lasting improvements in a relatively short period of time.

Click here for “10 Things You Need to Know About Vision”

If your family is located in Olney or Silver Spring, Maryland, contact Dr. Philp Nicholson’s Visual Learning Center to schedule a functional vision exam today.

How Vision Problems Interfere with Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension refers to a child’s ability to not only read the text on a page, but also process it and understand its meaning.

For a child to develop reading comprehension, the entire visual processing system must work efficiently. Seeing the text clearly is only the first step in the process. Your child must know how to sound out a word or remember a word on sight, understand each word’s meaning, and then make sense of sentences and paragraphs.

Intelligence is one factor in reading comprehension, but there are many more factors that come into play in a child’s ability to both read and comprehend. Some bright children have difficulty with reading comprehension due to problems with their visual processing system.

In order to read, we take in visual information in the form of text and then decode it into mental images to which we assign meaning, and then retain and use those images to categorize and recall for future use.

Taking in visual information efficiently requires the coordination of hundreds of eye muscles and strong oculomotor control. If there is a weakness or deficiency, this can affect a child’s ability to focus both eyes on the same spot simultaneously or to move their eyes smoothly as a team across a line of text. Poor eye tracking,  eye teaming, or focus leads to difficulty and frustration for a child, and the extra effort to take in visual information may cause fatigue, headaches, or the inability to maintain attention.

Once the visual information is taken in through the eyes, the process of comprehension has only just begun.  Next up, a child’s brain will have to run the information through the process of visual perception, meaning they will have to be able to extract the information they see and use it appropriately.

Efficient visual perception is needed for a child to recognize and remember letters, words, and their meaning. If a child has a deficiency related to visual perception, he will struggle with minor differences in similar words or letters. This may lead to confusing p with q or d with b, for example; or it may also mean conflating words with similar beginnings, reading words backwards, or having difficulty distinguishing the main idea of a story from a minor detail. Recognizing, remembering, and applying information quickly and easily is critical for performance in reading comprehension, and student must have a healthy vision system to do so.

The following are specific ways visual perceptual processing may interfere with reading comprehension:

Visual Spatial Skills and Visual Discrimination are required to organize visual space and understand directional concepts and orientation. A child with poor visual spatial and discrimination skills may process a letter or word backwards.

Visualization is the ability to create a mental image in one’s mind, which is important for processing and remembering information for comprehension. When someone says, “I see what you mean,” we think of this a an idiom, but when it comes to reading and visual processing, we really are creating mental images that help us to comprehend. We’re essentially seeing something in our mind.

Visual Memory is the ability to retain information that you have learned. A child must be able to recognize and remember a word from one page, assignment, and day to the next. He must create an image of that word or set of words in his mind and recall it as needed.

Visual Sequential Memory refers to the ability to remember the proper sequence of words, letters, or story narrative, in the same order it was seen originally. Keeping the images of what they recall in order is of course critical to comprehension.

So, as you can see, the ability to comprehend is not simply a function of intelligence.

If a child is having difficulty moving and coordinating his eye muscles properly and then the child also has difficulty processing that information visually in his brain, he is going to perform poorly in the area of reading comprehension as a result.

If a student has a visual processing problem, reading comprehension can be improved significantly and relatively quickly with an individualized comprehensive vision therapy plan. If you suspect your child has a learning-related vision problem that interferes with reading comprehension, contact a developmental optometrist for a functional vision exam and vision therapy program.

If you are in the Olney. Maryland area, convenient to Silver Spring, schedule an appointment with Dr. Philip Nicholson’s Visual Learning Center today.

The Real Reason Your Smart Child Might Be Testing “Below Grade Level”

Standardized tests have long been part of the education system in the United States; but over the past decade mandated standardized testing has increased significantly to become a core component of schooling and a critical measure of your child’s success as a student.

Proponents of standardized tests claim that they are a fair, effective, and efficient way to measure students’ progress and hold schools accountable to goals and expectations. On the other hand, critics argue that standardized tests distract from deeper learning, and that they are unfair because some children do not test well, despite knowing the material.

As a parent, no matter where you stand on this controversial issue, if your child is testing below grade level, it is important for you to find out why.

If your child seems bright, but does not perform well on standardized tests, your first response might be that the teacher is not doing a good job, or that the school is not offering an optimal learning environment, or that the test is unfair. You may have performed well in school and on standardized tests yourself, and feel that someone must be failing your child.  You know that your child is smart, so something must be wrong.

Teachers and counselors will probably suggest testing for a learning disability, or they might suspect dyslexia or attention deficit disorder. The teacher’s performance review and the school’s performance goals are often dependent on students meeting grade level expectations; so it is in everyone’s best interest to get your child the help he needs.

However, there is a common, but often overlooked, problem that may be hindering your child’s test-taking ability. The real reason your child might be testing below grade level could be due to a learning-related vision problem. A vision problem could be to blame for your child’s “below average” reading comprehension or slow test taking, even with “20/20” eyesight.

Vision problems that affect eye muscles and coordination may cause your child to see double or blurry, lose his place often, or experience fatigue and distracting headaches. A visual processing problem related to memory or visualization could be the reason behind delayed reading comprehension.

Unlike a routine vision screening or typical eye exams, school standardized tests require prolonged reading, intense focusing of the eyes for hours at a time, looking from the problem to the answer sheet repeatedly, the ability to follow straight lines to bubble-in answers, and more activities seemingly simple for a child with a normally functioning vision system.

Testing for hours may exacerbate a problem that has not yet surfaced during normal classroom activities, because the child’s eyes may become even more tired than usual.

Poor visual skills that interfere with standardized testing include processing speed and accuracy, selective concentration, visual memory, letter reversals, visual-motor integration and speed, and visualization.

If there is any possibility that a vision problem could be to blame for your child scoring “below grade level” on standardized tests, the first step is to schedule a comprehensive vision exam by a doctor of optometry who specializes in functional and developmental vision care.

If diagnosed with a learning-related vision problem, an individualized vision therapy program can significantly, and relatively quickly, improve your child’s performance. With proper treatment and practice, these vision problems can be overcome.

If you are in the Olney, MD or Silver Spring, MD area, contact Dr. Philip Nicholson’s Visual Learning Center to schedule an appointment today.