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COVID & Optometric Education

Updated: Apr 30

The White House shared this information at the end of 2023.

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) measures 15-year-olds’ performance in math, science, and reading every three years. The 2022 PISA results reveal that the COVID-19 pandemic had substantial effects on education systems around the globe. Test scores in the United States declined in math by 10% and reading by 15% between 2018 and 2022. While there were small measured declines in science, these declines were not statistically significant, and were within the margin of error.

What does this data mean for the future of optometric education? It is too early to tell, but those 15 year-olds testing in 2022 are now seniors in high school that will be starting college in the Fall. They will be applying to optometry school in 3-4 years.

At the end of 2023, I was conducting an evaluation of admissions qualifications at a College of Optometry. I was able to plot the most prevalent measures of quality - cumulative GPA (cGPA) and academic average OAT (aaOAT) scores of accepted students on the same graph. The results were striking. Beginning at the end of 2019 there was a statistically significant rise in cGPA and this was coupled with a consistent decline in aaOAT. What does this mean? I think it means that we are living in a time of significant grade inflation and exceptions by undergraduate institutions. We all know that during COVID, educational institutions had to change. Believe me, it was a crazy time as we struggled to create a "new normal" in our classrooms, labs, and clinics. Did it all work? I don't think it did and I think the PISA report shows that K-12 struggled as well.

My concern is that these 15 year olds that demonstrated a 10-15% decline in their math and reading foundations are now about to start college. When they arrive on campus, what will they face? Will they face a school that insists that they raise their level of performance or will they meet a school that continues to make exceptions and embraces grade inflation? This is my fear! Are we approaching a "perfect storm" where students that are less prepared are entering schools and colleges that have weakened their standards? This could have a huge impact on all higher education. In optometry, we already struggle annually to create an applicant pool of competitive students. What will this look like in 3 or 4 years when it is filled with students that failed to grow educationally during COVID learning? Honestly, it scares me.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Feel free to email me at any time:

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