Testing the validity of value-added measures of educational progress with genetic data

Tim Morris, Neil Davies, Danny Dorling, Rebecca Richmond, George Davey Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
355 Downloads (Pure)


Value-added measures of educational progress have been used by education researchers and policy makers to assess the performance of teachers and schools, impacting performance related pay and position in school league tables. Designed to control for all underlying differences between pupils they should provide unbiased measures of school and teacher influence on pupil progress. However, questions have been raised about how effectively they manage this. We exploit genetic data from a UK birth cohort to investigate how successfully value-added measures control for genetic differences between pupils. We use raw value-added, contextual value-added (which additionally controls for background characteristics), and teacher reported value-added measures built from point score test data at ages 11, 14 and 16. Sample sizes for analyses range from 4,600 to 6,518. Our findings demonstrate that genetic differences between pupils explain little variation in raw value-added measures but explain up to 20% of the variation in contextual value-added measures (95%CI: 6.06% to 35.71%). Value-added measures built from teacher rated ability are more responsive to genetic differences between pupils, with 36.3% of their cross-sectional variation being statistically accounted for by genetics (95%CI: 22.8% to 49.8%). In conclusion, our findings provide evidence that value-added measures of educational progress can be influenced by genetic differences between pupil, and therefore may provide a biased measure of school and teacher performance. We include a glossary of genetic terms for educational researchers interested in the use of genetic data in educational research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)725-747
Number of pages23
JournalBritish Educational Research Journal
Issue number5
Early online date9 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2018


  • attainment
  • education
  • heritability
  • value added


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