Decisions that make a difference in detecting differential item functioning

Stephen G. Sireci, Joseph Rios

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


There are numerous statistical procedures for detecting items that function differently across subgroups of examinees that take a test or survey. However, in endeavouring to detect items that may function differentially, selection of the statistical method is only one of many important decisions. In this article, we discuss the important decisions that affect investigations of differential item functioning (DIF) such as choice of method, sample size, effect size criteria, conditioning variable, purification, DIF amplification, DIF cancellation, and research designs for evaluating DIF. Our review highlights the necessity of matching the DIF procedure to the nature of the data analysed, the need to include effect size criteria, the need to consider the direction and balance of items flagged for DIF, and the need to use replication to reduce Type I errors whenever possible. Directions for future research and practice in using DIF to enhance the validity of test scores are provided.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)170-187
Number of pages18
JournalEducational Research and Evaluation
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Apr 1 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • differential item functioning
  • item bias
  • validity


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