"Genetics play a big role," accounting for 70 percent to 80 percent of variability in children's reading skills, Taylor said.
So what role does the quality of instruction play?
Taylor and her colleagues collected data from 280 identical and 526 fraternal twin pairs in Florida. The sample included roughly equal proportions of black, Hispanic and white kids.
To assess teacher quality, researchers created an index reflecting the amount of reading progress made by the classmates of the twins from beginning of first or second grade to the end of the school year. The index was based on "oral reading fluency" scores, which provide an estimate of how many words in a paragraph a child can accurately read in a minute.
Using that information, the team conducted statistical analyses to figure out whether teacher quality influenced twins' reading performance.
Overall, the study shows that teacher quality makes a difference in reading achievement because it has a moderating effect on genetic differences. At high levels of teacher quality, there was greater genetic variance, "meaning that a good bit of why the kids in those classrooms differ had to do with their genetic differences," Taylor explained.
"It doesn't mean that it erases differences between kids. It allows those differences to emerge and be realized," she added.
Last week, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a teacher pay and tenure bill that would have based teacher evaluations used in determining teacher pay, in part, on student achievements, the Miami Herald reported. The governor called the bill "significantly flawed," it said.
But the idea remains alive and well. Lawmakers in a number of states are considering linking teacher pay to student performance.
The problem, Taylor reasoned, is that kids bring their own differences to the classroom, including behavioral prob
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