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.

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