Date of Award

August 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Psychology

First Advisor

Cindy M. Walker

Committee Members

Razia Azen, Ehsan Soofi, Daniel Bolt, Bo Zhang


Ability Estimation, Differential Item Functioning, Multilevel DIF Detection, Multilevel Rasch Models


Fairness is an important issue in educational testing in that different groups of examinees should have equal probabilities of answering an item correctly, provided they have the same capabilities. Therefore, differential item functioning (DIF) analyses were developed due to the possibility of bias in cognitive or achievement tests. Data are multilevel structured in educational testing as students are nested within teachers who are nested within schools, and which may further be nested within districts. Although DIF analyses have been discussed for decades, they are rarely investigated in multilevel data. In this study, DIF analyses in multilevel data were investigated via a simulation study with an emphasis on studying DIF at the teacher-level only and at both student and teacher levels, followed by the impacts of DIF on ability estimation. The multilevel Rasch models were used to detect DIF at different locations in both exploratory and confirmatory manners. Type I error rates were all accepted at the 0.05 level. The power was larger when conducting confirmatory analyses. The magnitude of DIF at both levels and the proportion of manifest groups at both levels were two most influential factors on the power of detecting of DIF. However, no influential factors found had impacts on ability estimates. The interpretation of results, possible reasons, limitations, and further studies were discussed.