James Rada Jr., Columnist
If a student can’t read what the teacher writes on a chalkboard or projects on a screen, he is going to have trouble learning.
With this in mind, the Allegany County Board of Education launched a new vision testing program in February 1950. Students in odd-numbered grades would undergo vision screenings in order to catch any problems and develop a way to address those problems.
“Many minor physical defects in children need not be a serious handicap to children in the regular classroom provided the defect is recognized by the teacher as being present, and provided proper techniques are employed for remedial and proper developmental instruction,” School Superintendent Charles L. Kopp said in the Cumberland Evening Times.
Dora Martin Sweene began testing students at Cresaptown Elementary-Jr. High on Feb. 7. Parents had been notified prior to the testing of when it would start and for what the purpose was. The Cumberland Evening Times reported that the test “seeks to detect cases in which there is low visual acuity, to detect those who have a condition causing eye strain and to detect cases which may cause difficulty in using both eyes together.” It was based on a similar program that was being used in Massachusetts.
Following the testing, parents were notified of the results. “In cases where defective vision is detected, parents will be notified and asked to have the child examined by a specialist. In cases where parents cannot afford the examinations the Department of Health and the Welfare Board will be asked to assist,” the Cumberland Evening Times reported.
Special Education Department Supervisor Ralph E. Kessler brought the program to the board of education. His goal was to use it in conjunction with two other tests the board had started using to detect speech and hearing problems.
The Allegany County Department of Health jointly sponsored the program with the board of education. Nurses from the health department handled a lot of the follow-up work involved with making sure children were examined and that any recommendations were followed.
“It must be remembered that the administrator of the test only determines which child passes and which child fails — referral cases become the responsibility of the family eye specialist,” Kessler said.
Based on national percentages applied to the county’s 16,000 students in 1950, Kessler projected that testing would identify eight students who would need a Braille study for institutional placement, 32 partially sighted students and 3,200 students with correctible vision problems.
The Allegany County Health Department still tests the vision of public and nonpublic school students today. Students are tested when they start at an Allegany County school and also in grades one, five and nine.
The test is a general vision screening that tests distance vision, muscle coordination, color perception and depth perception. During the 2012-2013 school year, 3,329 public school students had their vision tested and 232 of them were identified for needing corrective vision action, according to Reba Niland with the health department.