Parents always worry about whether their children will do well in school, but a new study out of UT Austin says their kids probably were born with much of what they will need to succeed. The study, published in npj Science of Learning by researchers from UT Austin and King’s College London, explains the substantial influence genes have on academic success, from the start of elementary school to the last day of high school.
Researchers analyzed test scores from primary through the end of compulsory education of more than 6,000 pairs of twins. They found educational achievement to be highly stable throughout schooling, meaning that most students who started off well in primary school continued to do well until graduation. Genetic factors explained about 70 percent of this stability, while the twins’ shared environment contributed to about 25 percent, and their nonshared environment, such as different friends or teachers, contributed to the remaining 5 percent.
That’s not to say that an individual was simply born smart, researchers explained. Even after accounting for intelligence, genes still explained about 60 percent of the continuity of academic achievement.
“Academic achievement is driven by a range of cognitive and noncognitive traits,” says Margherita Malanchini, a psychology postdoctoral fellow at the Population Research Center at UT Austin. “Previously, studies have linked it to personality, behavioral problems, motivation, health and many other factors that are partly heritable.”
However, at times grades did change, such as a drop in grades between primary and secondary school. Those changes, researchers say, can be explained largely by nonshared environmental factors.
“Our findings should provide additional motivation to identify children in need of interventions as early as possible, as the problems are likely to remain throughout the school years,” says Kaili Rimfeld, a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London.