Genetics and good schooling key to a child's reading ability

"We wanted to see if school grades actually mattered to children’s reading achievement," said researcher Sara Hart.

By Brooks Hays

TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Aug. 12 (UPI) -- A child's ability to read is reliant on nature and nurture. New research suggests even high quality reading genes aren't enough to overcome poor schooling.

Researchers from Florida State University found top schools allow innate abilities to flourish, but poor schools can quash a child's potential.


FSU doctoral student Rasheda Haughbrook and assistant psychology professor Sara Hart looked at correlations between student reading performance and school quality. Most public schools in Florida receive a letter grade from the state's education department.

"The letter grade a school receives has such power -- from the funding the school will receive to the autonomy it is allowed to the home prices around the school and real estate purchases," Hart explained in a news release. "We wanted to see if school grades actually mattered to children's reading achievement."

Hart and Haughbrook focused on several thousand sets of twins -- some identical, some fraternal -- to tease out the different effects of genetics and learning environments on reading ability.

The two researchers figured that if identical twins are more similar than fraternal twins in the development of reading abilities, then genetics are likely to have the greatest impact.


Conversely, if both fraternal twins and identical twins are equally similar, their shared environments are likely more important in dictating reading abilities.

Additionally, if the academic performances identical twins reveal a marked difference in a specific subject or skill set, like reading, it may be that the non-shared environment is playing an outsized role.

The results of their analysis of pre-reading skill scores showed the influence of genetics was most obvious among students attending schools with the highest letter grade -- A. For students in poorer learning environments, reading abilities were more sporadic, suggesting environmental factors have a disruptive effect.

"Often, it seems that the way these grades are measured is based on arbitrary cutoffs and calculations," Haughbrook said. "We wanted to know if school grades really made a difference for student performance."

The latest research was published this week in the journal Developmental Science.

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