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Examining the genetic influences of educational attainment and the validity of value-added measures of progress

By Tim T Morris, Neil M Davies, Danny Dorling, Rebecca C Richmond, George Davey Smith

Posted 14 Dec 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/233635

In this study, we estimate (i) the SNP heritability of educational attainment at three time points throughout the compulsory educational lifecourse; (ii) the SNP heritability of value-added measures of educational progress built from test data; and (iii) the extent to which value-added measures built from teacher rated ability may be biased due to measurement error. We utilise a genome wide approach using generalized restricted maximum likelihood (GCTA-GREML) to determine the total phenotypic variance in educational attainment and value-added measures that is attributable to common genetic variation across the genome within a sample of unrelated individuals from a UK birth cohort, the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. Our findings suggest that the heritability of educational attainment measured using point score test data increases with age from 47% at age 11 to 61% at age 16. We also find that genetic variation does not contribute towards value-added measures created only from educational attainment point score data, but it does contribute a small amount to measures that additionally control for background characteristics (up to 20.09% [95%CI: 6.06 to 35.71] from age 11 to 14). Finally, our results show that value-added measures built from teacher rated ability have higher heritability than those built from exam scores. Our findings suggest that the heritability of educational attainment increases through childhood and adolescence. Value-added measures based upon fine grain point scores may be less prone to between-individual genomic differences than measures that control for students backgrounds, or those built from more subjective measures such as teacher rated ability.

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