DNA A-to-F: Can genes predict if kids will succeed in school?

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Credit: Harry Campbell

[Social scientist Ben] Domingue and his colleagues found that [a] polygenic score could help identify which groups of high schoolers had been placed into advanced math classes. The score could also point to students most likely to stick with advanced math courses across all four years of high school.

Paige Harden, a clinical psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin — and a co-author on the math study — likens the polygenic score to a credit score. Neither the polygenic nor the credit score can really forecast what will happen to a particular person. Instead, they provide a rough sense of how people with that score will, on average, fare.

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Related article:  98: That's how many humans it would take to start over on another planet

Some research suggests the genes associated with education are related to the nervous system and the brain, raising the possibility that they’re connected to cognitive functions — things like strong memory, creativity and perseverance — that serve people well in school.

But the relationship could be nuanced. Domingue pointed out that there could be genetic factors that make a person more likely to be a supportive parent, which, in turn, would correlate to better school performance in their children. Because the child and parent share DNA, the polygenic score could capture gene variants in the child that explain educational performance but actually reflect the parent’s behavior.

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