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Abou El-Komboz, Basil; Zeileis, Achim and Strobl, Carolin (16. January 2014): Detecting Differential Item and Step Functioning with Rating Scale and Partial Credit Trees. Department of Statistics: Technical Reports, No.152 [PDF, 548kB]


Several statistical procedures have been suggested for detecting differential item functioning (DIF) and differential step functioning (DSF) in polytomous items. However, standard procedures are designed for the comparison of pre-specified reference and focal groups, such as males and females.

Here, we propose a framework for the detection of DIF and DSF in polytomous items under the rating scale and partial credit model, that employs a model-based recursive partitioning algorithm. In contrast to existing procedures, with this approach no pre-specification of reference and focal groups is necessary, because they are detected in a data-driven way. The resulting groups are characterized by (combinations of) covariates and thus directly interpretable.

The statistical background and construction of the new procedures are introduced along with an instructive example. Four simulation studies illustrate and compare their statistical properties to the well-established likelihood ratio test (LRT). While both the LRT and the new procedures respect a given significance level, the new procedures are in most cases equally (simple DIF groups) or more powerful (complex DIF groups) and can also detect DSF. The sensitivity to model misspecification is investigated. An application example with empirical data illustrates the practical use.

A software implementation of the new procedures is freely available in the R system for statistical computing.

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