Efficient Eye Tracking: A Learned Fine Motor Skill Essential to Reading

Eye tracking develops in early childhood through experience and learning and continues to improve as the child grows older. In order to use vision efficiently, the eyes must move accurately, smoothly, and quickly from target-to-target. When reading, the eyes must accurately jump from one word to another. Some children do not track their eyes efficiently, particularly while reading, which significantly impacts their reading ability. In fact, children with reading disorders have been shown to have slower and less accurate eye tracking while reading compared to children without reading difficulties.

According to a study of 4,000 students in the US, those who are not proficient readers by 3rd grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. Yet only 34% of 4th graders in the U.S. are proficient readers. Even children who are performing well in school may struggle to complete reading tasks or may find reading laborious. Due to the link between poorer reading performance and eye tracking inefficiency, it is important to identify students who have inefficient eye tracking skills.

What we now know is that eye tracking issues are a common problem. About 25% of children have a vision problem that impacts their academic performance, including eye tracking inefficiencies. Surprisingly, a study published in the Journal of Child Neurology in 2017 found that 156 out of 327 1st and 2nd grade students scored below the 50th percentile rank in eye tracking skills, which also significantly correlated with poorer performance on reading fluency and comprehension. In the study, reading-related eye tracking performance was measured with the King-Devick Test, a standardized rapid number naming test. 

What Reading Looks Like with an Eye Tracking Inefficiency

Similar to writing, eye tracking is a fine motor task. Many children require assistance in developing more accurate and efficient reading-related eye movements, just as they must learn how to properly hold a pencil to write or quickly type on a keyboard. There is substantial evidence that specific eye movement training improves reading performance for grade school children.

“It is important to keep in mind that eye tracking difficulties are a common cause of poor reading performance in our early learners and can significantly interfere with overall academic achievement,” says Danielle Leong, OD, PhD, CSO, King-Devick technologies. “Published evidence shows us that there are simple solutions. Teaching our students the fine motor skills necessary for the physical act of reading broadens their abilities and academic potential with profound impacts on reading achievement.”

Alexandra Talaber, OD, Director of Reading Solutions, King-Devick technologies adds, “Optimal visual performance sets students up for success in the classroom. Utilizing evidence-based programs that increase visual performance early on can significantly improve a student’s academic performance so they can focus on reading-to-learn verses learning-to-read.”

A Research-Based Solution Tests for Eye Tracking Inefficiency and Improves Reading Performance

Want to learn more about identifying eye tracking difficulties and improving visual performance to enhance reading achievement? The King-Devick Reading Acceleration Program (K-D RAP) is a web-based system that teaches students how to move their eyes efficiently and accurately, and has been shown to significantly increase oral reading fluency and comprehension scores in as little as six weeks in elementary students.