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Characteristics Associated With Differential Item Functioning on the Scholastic Aptitude Test: Gender and Majority/Minority Group Comparisons DIF SAT

Carlton, Sydell T.; Harris, Abigail M.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Report
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Comparative Analysis, Differential Item Functioning (DIF), Minority Groups, Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), Sex Bias, Test Bias


The purpose of the study was to investigate whether selected test and item characteristics in the SAT are associated with unexpected differential item functioning (DIF) for males and females and for majority and minority group members (i.e., White performance compared with Black American, Asian American, Hispanic American, and American Indian performance). Six forms of the SAT that were administered relatively recently were used. Each of the six forms consists of Verbal sections (containing Analogies, Antonyms, Sentence Completions, and Reading Comprehension), Mathematics sections (containing Regular Mathematics problem-solving and Quantitative Comparisons), and the Test of Standard Written English (TSWE) (containing Usage and Sentence Correction). Findings from previous studies, test specifications, and suggestions offered by test development experts led to the identification of more than one hundred a priori item coding categories, and each SAT item was coded accordingly. Items were coded with regard to type, content, and format. The Mantel-Haenszel procedure was used to provide an index of differential item functioning (DIF) for each reference/focal group comparison. Females, Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians were the focal groups; males and Whites were the reference groups. With the exception of the American Indians, each focal group was represented in sufficient numbers on each test form to lead to meaningful interpretation of data. For each item category, one-way analyses of variance were computed using as the dependent variable the Mantel-Haenszel DIF values. Analyses were run separately for each reference/focal group investigated. The study reports on patterns of differential performance across SAT sections as well as on section-specific differences. Patterns across several ethnic groups and between two gender groups, as well as results specific to each of the groups, are identified. The report addresses the following questions: Are there unexpected group differences associated with the points tested (e.g., percentages, verb forms)? What aspects of item content (e.g., subject matter, gender and ethnic references, level of language) are associated with unexpected group differences? Are there elements of test or item format (e.g., length of stem, formatting or location of the stem or options) that are associated with unexpected group differences? (145pp.)

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