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Ensuring the Fairness of GRE Writing Prompts: Assessing Differential Difficulty

Broer, Markus; Lee, Yong-Won; Rizavi, Saba; Powers, Donald E.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
GREB Report No. 02-07R, RR-05-11
ETS Research Report
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Differential Item Difficulty Differential Item Functioning (DIF) English as a Second Language (ESL) Ethnic Minorities Fairness Gender Graduate Record Examination (GRE) Item Characteristics Polytomous DIF Writing Prompts


Three polytomous DIF detection techniques—the Mantel test, logistic regression, and polySTAND—were used to identify GRE® Analytical Writing prompts (Issue and Argument) that are differentially difficult for (a) female test takers; (b) African American, Asian, and Hispanic test takers; and (c) test takers whose strongest language skills are in a language other than English. Prompts in the gender comparison showed low differential item functioning (DIF) values. Higher DIF values were found in the White versus African American comparison (for Argument prompts), while a smaller number of prompts showed moderate DIF to the disadvantage of the Hispanic (for Argument prompts), Asian American (for Issue prompts), and English as a second language groups (for Issue prompts). No DIF values were found that were large enough to warrant the removal of prompts from the item pool. Several potential causes of high DIF values for some prompts are discussed with respect to the content characteristics of these prompts.

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