Differential Item Functioning via Robust Scaling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper proposes a method for assessing differential item functioning (DIF) in item response theory (IRT) models. The method does not require pre-specification of anchor items, which is its main virtue. It is developed in two main steps: first by showing how DIF can be re-formulated as a problem of outlier detection in IRT-based scaling and then tackling the latter using methods from robust statistics. The proposal is a redescending M-estimator of IRT scaling parameters that is tuned to flag items with DIF at the desired asymptotic type I error rate. Theoretical results describe the efficiency of the estimator in the absence of DIF and its robustness in the presence of DIF. Simulation studies show that the proposed method compares favorably to currently available approaches for DIF detection, and a real data example illustrates its application in a research context where pre-specification of anchor items is infeasible. The focus of the paper is the two-parameter logistic model in two independent groups, with extensions to other settings considered in the conclusion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


  • differential item functioning
  • item response theory
  • robust statistics
  • test scaling and equating

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology
  • Applied Mathematics


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