Dr. Dax Eckard, right, begins an eye exam on Hudson Evans, 9, at Wesson and Mothershed Eye Center on North Gloster in Tupelo.

TUPELO • Area eye doctors affiliated with the Mississippi Vision Foundation and the Mississippi Optometric Association will offer free eye exams this summer to third-graders who do not have insurance and did not pass the reading gate assessment.

In it’s fifth year, the program could not have come at a better time as third-graders across the state struggled this year to pass the exam which determines whether students will be promoted to the fourth grade. The eye exams will be offered through July 31.

Katie Richardson with Eye Care Associates in Tupelo said she does not see a large number of students coming in strictly for the program, but said the eye exams have made a significant difference for the students who do come in.

“There have been some children that have had really strong prescriptions and either the parents didn’t realize it or the children didn’t know how to express it, but then they got glasses and it was like a whole new world for them,” Richardson said.

“If you can’t see, then you can’t read.”

Mississippi third-graders showed slightly increased higher proficiency but lower passing rates on the third grade reading assessment this year. More than 25% did not meet new requirements to pass this year due to higher achievement standards for passing.

So local optometrists have stepped in to help. Dax Eckard with Wesson & Mothershed Eye Center in Tupelo decided he wanted to be a part of the eye exam program to give back to the community.

Statistics put together by the partner organizations showed 25% of school-aged children have vision issues. Results from the pilot program year in 2015 aimed at students who did not pass the assessment showed 88% of students who had the eye exams were found to have vision issues.

Eckard said the learning issues for some students could be alleviated with a pair of glasses.

“There are all kinds of obstacles to learning and vision is not the only thing, but it is a big thing,” Eckard said.

Eye doctors based in all northeast counties except for Chickasaw are participating in the program, according to the MVF website.

The window for retaking the reading gate test is set by the state, however, each school district may choose the testing date or dates within that window.

The first retest opportunity has already passed, but the second and final retest window for school districts is between June 24 and July 12.

According to Tupelo Public School District, the final day of retesting will be July 11. For Lee County School District, the final retest will be conducted the week of June 24-28.

Parents of eligible students should contact the Mississippi Vision Foundation website at to find a participating optometrist.

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