Parents and students throughout the country are crossing items off their back-to-school checklists, but most are missing an important task to ensure learning success – a visit to the eye doctor for a comprehensive eye exam. According to an American Optometric Association (AOA) survey of K-12 teachers, 81 percent believe vision and learning are interdependent.

"Healthy vision is critical to learning and excelling in school," said Dr. Pamela Lowe, optometrist and the AOA's vision & learning specialist. "Comprehensive eye exams should be performed to detect problems like astigmatism, eye coordination and moderate amounts of farsightedness, conditions that can prohibit optimal learning."

Many experts believe that approximately 80 percent of learning comes through a child's eyes. Reading, writing and computer work are just a few of the tasks students are expected to perform daily that require visual skills. As classrooms adopt more technologically advanced tools, such as interactive blackboard presentations, the dependence on adequate visual capabilities will increase.

Below are essential elements an optometrist will check during a comprehensive eye exam to make certain learning is maximized through good vision.

* Visual acuity is measured at several distances so students can comfortably and efficiently read, work on the computer and see the blackboard.

* Focusing is an important skill that is tested. Eyes must be able to focus on a specific object and to easily shift focus from one object to another. This allows the child to move visual attention from a book to the blackboard and back.

* Visual alignment and ocular motility are evaluated. Ideally, the muscles that aim each eye converge so that both eyes are aimed at the same object, refining depth perception.

* Binocular fusion (eye teaming) skills are assessed. These skills are critical to coordinate and align the eyes precisely so the brain can fuse the pictures it receives from each eye into a single image

* Eye tracking skills are tested to determine whether the child can track across a page accurately and efficiently while reading, and can copy material quickly and easily from the blackboard or another piece of paper.

* Testing preschoolers' color vision is important because a large part of the early educational process involves the use of color identification.

* Eye-hand-body coordination, critical for handwriting, throwing a ball or playing an instrument, and visual perception, used to interpret and understand visual information like form, size, orientation, texture and color perception, are important visual functions that are reviewed.

* Overall eye health is determined by examining the structures of the eye.

Studies indicate that some children with undetected vision problems can be misdiagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHA). The AOA survey revealed that 64 percent of teachers witnessed a direct improvement in a child's academic performance and/or classroom behavior after an eye or vision problem was diagnosed and treated. If your child experiences any of the following, an optometrist should be consulted about a possible vision problem:

* Loses place while reading

* Omits or confuses small words when reading

* Avoids close work

* Consistently performs below potential

* Tends to rub eyes

* Struggles to complete homework

* Has headaches

* Squints while reading or watching television

* Turns or tilts head

* Has behavioral problems

* Makes frequent reversals when reading or writing

* Holds reading material closer than normal

* Uses finger to maintain place when reading

Early detection and treatment are key in correcting vision problems and helping children see clearly. The AOA recommends that a child's first eye assessment take place at 6 months of age. Comprehensive eye exams should be conducted beginning at age 3, before a child enters school, and then every two years, unless otherwise advised by an optometrist. In between exams, parents and teachers should monitor children for the more prevalent signs that a student's vision may be impaired.