Item response theory

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Jump to: navigation, search In psychometrics, item response theory (IRT) also known as latent trait theory, strong true score theory, or modern mental test theory, is a paradigm for the design, analysis, and scoring of tests, questionnaires, and similar instruments measuring abilities, attitudes, or other variables. It is based on the application of related mathematical models to testing data. Because it is generally regarded as superior to classical test theory, it is the preferred method for the development of high-stakes tests such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). The name item response theory is due to the focus of the theory on the item, as opposed to the test-level focus of classical test theory, by modeling the response of an examinee of given ability to each item in the test. The term item is used because many test questions are not actually questions; they might be multiple choice questions that have incorrect and correct responses, but are also commonly statements on questionnaires that allow respondents to indicate level of agreement (a rating or Likert scale), or patient symptoms scored as present/absent. IRT is based on the idea that the probability of a correct/keyed response to an item is a mathematical function of person and item parameters. The person parameter is called latent trait or ability; it may, for example, represent a person's intelligence or the strength of an attitude. Item parameters include difficulty (location), discrimination (slope or correlation), and pseudoguessing (lower asymptote).

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1 Overview 2 The item response function 3 IRT models o 3.1 Number of IRT parameters o 3.2 Logistic and normal IRT models o 3.3 The Rasch model 4 Analysis of model fit 5 Information 6 Scoring 7 A comparison of classical and Item Response theory 8 See also 9 References 10 Additional reading 11 External links

[edit] Overview

3. constructs. maintaining banks of items for exams. or attributes. The pioneering work of IRT as a theory occurred during the 1950s and 1960s.[2] IRT models are often referred to as latent trait models. the purpose of IRT is to provide a framework for evaluating how well assessments work. which is equivalent to the assumption of unidimensionality.[1] the Danish mathematician Georg Rasch. IRT did not become widely used until the late 1970s and 1980s. 'Local independence' means that items are not related except for the fact that they measure the same trait. Latent trait models were developed in the field of sociology. IRT is generally regarded as an improvement over classical test theory (CTT). who pursued parallel research independently. when personal computers gave many researchers access to the computing power necessary for IRT. and how well individual items on assessments work. 2. and Austrian sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld. The topic of dimensionality is often investigated with factor analysis. not directly observed. are enabled by IRT and cannot reasonably be performed using only classical test theory. Another advantage of IRT over CTT is that the more sophisticated information IRT provides allows a researcher to improve the reliability of an assessment. Lord. while the IRF is the basic building block of IRT and is the center of much of the research and literature. but presented separately because multidimensionality can be caused by other issues.0.0 and a standard deviation of 1. Key figures who furthered the progress of IRT include Benjamin Wright and David Andrich. such as computerized adaptive testing. Some applications. [edit] The item response function . The most common application of IRT is in education. where psychometricians use it for developing and refining exams. For tasks that can be accomplished using CTT. The term latent is used to emphasize that discrete item responses are taken to be observable manifestations of hypothesized traits. Local independence of items. Three of the pioneers were the Educational Testing Service psychometrician Frederic M. and equating for the difficulties of successive versions of exams (for example. IRT entails three assumptions: 1. to allow comparisons between results over time). The trait is further assumed to be measurable on a scale (the mere existence of a test assumes this). but which must be inferred from the manifest responses. typically set to a standard scale with a mean of 0.The concept of the item response function was around before 1950. Among other things. The response of a person to an item can be modeled by a mathematical item response function (IRF). IRT generally brings greater flexibility and provides more sophisticated information. A unidimensional trait denoted by . but are virtually identical to IRT models.

The example item has =1. and are the item parameters. Thus. mathematically represented as a lower asymptote. which is near the center of the distribution. it is valid to talk about an item being about as hard as Person A's trait level or of a person's trait level being about the same as Item Y's difficulty. It is the point on where the IRF has its maximum slope. Note that this model scales the item's difficulty and the person's trait onto the same continuum. . The exact value of the probability depends. while persons with high ability are very likely to answer correctly. students with higher math ability are more likely to get a math item correct. persons with low ability do indeed have a much smaller chance of correctly responding than persons of higher ability. This parameter characterizes the slope of the IRF where the slope is at its maximum. the degree to which the item discriminates between persons in different regions on the latent continuum. Persons with lower ability have less of a chance. in addition to ability. in the case of attainment testing. which discriminates fairly well. The item parameters simply determine the shape of the IRF and in some cases have a direct interpretation. there is a 1/4 chance of an extremely low ability candidate guessing the correct answer. The figure to the right depicts an example of the 3PL model of the ICC with an overlaid conceptual explanation of the parameters. . for example. in the three parameter logistic (3PL) model. The item parameter represents the discrimination of the item: that is. A four-option multiple choice item might have an IRF like the example item. For example. It indicates the probability that very low ability individuals will get this item correct by chance.0.0. the probability of a correct response to an item i is: where is the person (ability) parameter and . The example item is of medium difficulty since =0. in the sense that successful performance of the task involved with an item reflects a specific level of ability. For items such as multiple choice items. is referred to as the item difficulty. The parameter represents the item location which.The IRF gives the probability that a person with a given ability level will answer correctly. on a set of item parameters for the IRF. the parameter is used in attempt to account for the effects of guessing on the probability of a correct response.

However. but that all items are equivalent in terms of discrimination. this is rarely used. such as fill-in-the-blank items ("What is the square root of 121?"). or interest items (e. The 2PL is equivalent to the 3PL model with . with an upper asymptote.g. Additionally. For example. IRT models can be divided into two families: unidimensional and multidimensional. or where the concept of guessing does not apply." [edit] Number of IRT parameters Dichotomous IRT models are described by the number of parameters they make use of. the 2PL uses and . the formula for a two-parameter normal-ogive IRF is: . attitude. However. Unidimensional models require a single trait (ability) dimension .so the would be approximately 0. The two-parameter model (2PL) assumes that the data have no guessing. so IRT parameter estimation methods take this into account and estimate a based on the observed data. e. these are sometimes called normal ogive models.[3] [edit] IRT models Broadly speaking. [edit] Logistic and normal IRT models An alternative formulation constructs IRFs based on the normal probability distribution.[4][5] A common example of this Likert-type items. "Rate on a scale of 1 to 5. analogous to a common factor analysis with identical loadings for all items. but that items can vary in terms of location ( ) and discrimination ( ). IRT models can also be categorized based on the number of scored responses. The 1PL uses only . it is still scored only as correct/incorrect (right/wrong). The typical multiple choice item is dichotomous.[6] The 3PL is named so because it employs three item parameters. This approach assumes that all options are equally plausible. Individual items or individuals might have secondary factors but these are assumed to be mutually independent and collectively orthogonal. the majority of IRT research and applications utilize a unidimensional model. and is appropriate for testing items where guessing the correct answer is highly unlikely. the location/difficulty ( ) parameter is clearly most important because it is included in all three models. Agree/Disagree"). where each response has a different score value.. Multidimensional IRT models model response data hypothesized to arise from multiple traits. The 1PL assumes not only that guessing is not present (or irrelevant). "I like Broadway musicals. such as personality. because of the greatly increased complexity. and the 3PL adds . Another class of models apply to polytomous outcomes.g. The one-parameter model (1PL) assumes that there is no guessing and that items have equivalent discriminations. even though there may be four or five options.25. there is theoretically a four-parameter model. because if one option made no sense. even the lowest ability person would be able to discard it. so that items are only described by a single parameter ( ).. Note that the alphabetical order of the item parameters does not match their practical or psychometric importance.

. The logistic model was proposed as a simpler alternative. The discrimination parameter is . and may be excluded from the data set if substantive explanations can be made that they do not address the latent trait. whereas the Rasch approach requires both the data fit the Rasch model and that test items and examinees confirm to the model. More recently. this means that the IRT approaches include additional model parameters to reflect the patterns observed in the data (e. proponents of Rasch modeling prefer to view it as a completely different approach to conceptualizing the relationship between data and the theory[10]. it is assumed that. The presence or absence of a guessing or pseudo-chance parameter is a major and sometimes controversial distinction.[12] Operationally. but this was considered too computationally demanding for the computers at the time (1960s). and comparable to 1/ . The normal-ogive model derives from the assumption of normally distributed measurement error and is theoretically appealing on that basis. the difficulty parameter. the Rasch approach can be seen to be a confirmatory approach. care must be taken to avoid confirmation bias. under Rasch models. and has enjoyed wide use since. provided sufficient items are tested.[9] [edit] The Rasch model The Rasch model is often considered to be the 1PL IRT model.01 across the range of the function.[7] This means it is technically possible to estimate a simple IRT model using general-purpose statistical software. it was demonstrated that. allowing items to vary in their correlation with the latent trait). using standard polynomial approximations to the normal cdf. before claims regarding the presence of a latent trait can be considered valid. it is possible to make the 2PL logistic model closely approximate the cumulative normal ogive. Here is. misfitting responses require diagnosis of the reason for the misfit. while the Rasch model does not because it is assumed that guessing adds randomly distributed noise to the data.[8] the normal-ogive model is no more computationally demanding than logistic models. which tend to have more influence on results. the standard deviation of the measurement error for item i. With rescaling of the ability parameter. One can estimate a normal-ogive latent trait model by factor-analyzing a matrix of tetrachoric correlations between items. The IRT approach includes a left asymptote parameter to account for guessing in multiple choice examinations. As in any confirmatory analysis. the 2PL logistic and normal-ogive IRFs differ in probability by no more than 0. The latent trait/IRT model was originally developed using normal ogives. The difference is greatest in the distribution tails. However.g. As the noise is randomly distributed. Typically.where Φ is the cumulative distribution function (cdf) of the standard normal distribution. with adequate data-model fit being an important but secondary requirement to be met before a test or research instrument can be claimed to measure a trait. IRT emphasizes the primacy of the fit of a model to observed data [11].[13] Thus. Therefore. again. as opposed to exploratory approaches that attempt to model the observed data. while the Rasch model emphasizes the primacy of the requirements for fundamental measurement. Like other statistical modeling approaches. the rank-ordering of . however. however.

then the items may be removed from that test form and rewritten or replaced in future test forms. and. . Such a candidate can be argued to not belong to the same population of persons depending on the dimensionality of the test. or a standardized version of it. where the psychometric model is adjusted to fit the data. future administrations of the test must be checked for fit to the same model used in the initial validation in order to confirm the hypothesis that scores from each administration generalize to other administrations. reliability refers to the precision of measurement (i.persons along the latent trait by raw score will not change. Data should not be removed on the basis of misfitting the model. so misfit such as this is construct relevant and does not invalidate the test or the model. they are not population independent.e. Three-parameter IRT. where the idealized model is specified in advance. allowing the hypotheses upon which test specifications are based to be empirically tested against data. by contrast. In two and threeparameter models. but rather because a construct relevant reason for the misfit has been diagnosed. which in this application means a one-to-one mapping of raw numbercorrect scores to Rasch estimates. for example in order to compare two tests. If item misfit with any model is diagnosed as due to poor item quality. Thus. it is measured using a single index defined in various ways. Such an approach is an essential tool in instrument validation. such as a chi-square statistic. And traditionally. achieves data-model fit by selecting a model that fits the data[14]. so fit statistics lack the confirmatory diagnostic value found in oneparameter models.[16] Another advantage of the Rasch approach is that estimation of parameters is more straightforward in Rasch models due to the presence of sufficient statistics. which (when met) provides fundamental person-free measurement (where persons and items can be mapped onto the same invariant scale). misfit provides invaluable diagnostic tools for test developers. In practice. it is important to assess the fit of the data to the model. such as a non-native speaker of English taking a science test written in English. the construct validity of the test will need to be reconsidered and the test specifications may need to be rewritten. then a different latent trait is being measured and test scores cannot be argued to be comparable between administrations. at the expense of sacrificing specific objectivity.. however. the Rasch model has at least two principle advantages in comparison to the IRT approach. a large number of misfitting items occur with no apparent reason for the misfit. The first advantage is the primacy of Rasch's specific requirements[15]. the degree to which measurement is free of error). If a different model is specified for each administration in order to achieve data-model fit. There are several methods for assessing fit. Traditionally. ensuring improved data-model fit. Two and three-parameter IRT models adjust item discrimination. but will simply undergo a linear rescaling. [edit] Information One of the major contributions of item response theory is the extension of the concept of reliability. although one parameter IRT measures are argued to be sample-independent.[17] [edit] Analysis of model fit As with any use of mathematical models. such as the ratio of true and observed score variance. This index is helpful in characterizing a test's average reliability. If. for example confusing distractors in a multiple-choice test.

In the place of reliability. The item information function for the two parameter model is The item information function for the three parameter model is [18] In general. for example. Item response theory advances the concept of item and test information to replace reliability. the item information supplied in the case of the 1PL for dichotomous response data is simply the probability of a correct response multiplied by the probability of an incorrect response. Thus. Information is also a function of the model parameters. such as the two and three parameters models. item information functions are additive. or. For example. Plots of item information can be used to see how much information an item contributes and to what portion of the scale score range. Characterizing the accuracy of test scores is perhaps the central issue in psychometric theory and is a chief difference between IRT and CTT. generally have more error associated with them than scores closer to the middle of the range. the test information function is simply the sum of the information functions of the items on the exam. For other models.But IRT makes it clear that precision is not uniform across the entire range of test scores. . they contribute greatly but over a narrow range. narrow information functions. Scores at the edges of the test's range. the discrimination parameter plays an important role in the function. according to Fisher information theory. Because of local independence. Less discriminating items provide less information but over a wider range. IRT offers the test information function which shows the degree of precision at different values of theta. The standard error of estimation (SE) is the reciprocal of the test information of at a given trait level. item information functions tend to look bell-shaped. θ. test information functions can be shaped to control measurement error very precisely. Using this property with a large item bank. IRT findings reveal that the CTT concept of reliability is a simplification. is the Thus more information implies less error of measurement. Highly discriminating items have tall.

but IRT allows it to vary. indexed by the standard error of measurement. leading to a weighted score when the model contains item discrimination parameters. A person may learn skills. There is some amount of random error which may push the observed score higher or lower than the true score. Although CTT results have allowed important practical results. Of course." and where the actually passing score is unimportant. For example. Although the two paradigms are generally consistent and complementary.[20] While scoring is much more sophisticated with IRT. but rather only have an estimate.[22] [edit] A comparison of classical and Item Response theory Classical test theory (CTT) and IRT are largely concerned with the same problems but are different bodies of theory and therefore entail different methods. A graph of IRT scores against traditional scores shows an ogive shape implying that the IRT estimates separate individuals at the borders of the range more than in the middle. . These items generally correspond to items whose difficulty is about the same as that of the cutscore. personality characteristic. a portion of IRT research focuses on the measurement of change in trait level. knowledge or even so called "test-taking skills" which may translate to a higher true-score. skill. these results only hold when the assumptions of the IRT models are actually met. In fact. etc.95 or more.These results allow psychometricians to (potentially) carefully shape the level of reliability for different ranges of ability by including carefully chosen items. The estimate of the person parameter . often it is .[21] Also. which is the human capacity or attribute measured by the test. in a certification situation in which a test can only be passed or failed. the model-based nature of IRT affords many advantages over analogous CTT findings. characterizations of error. attitude. primarily. An important difference between CTT and IRT is the treatment of measurement error. where there is only a single "cutscore. [edit] Scoring The person parameter represents the magnitude of latent trait of the individual. This highest point is typically estimated with IRT software using the Newton-Raphson method. we can never know a person's true score. physical ability. the observed score. All tests. questionnaires. It is actually obtained by multiplying the item response function for each item to obtain a likelihood function. the highest point of which is the maximum likelihood estimate of . for most tests. there are a number of points of difference:   IRT makes stronger assumptions than CTT and in many cases provides correspondingly stronger findings. CTT assumes that the amount of error is the same for each examinee.is computed and interpreted in a very different manner as compared to traditional scores like number or percent correct. but is rather based on the IRFs.[19] It might be a cognitive ability. knowledge. and inventories are imprecise tools. The individual's total number-correct score is not the actual score.the "score" on a test with IRT . a very efficient test can be developed by selecting only items that have high information near the cutscore. nothing about IRT refutes human development or improvement or assumes that a trait level is fixed. the (linear) correlation between the theta estimate and a traditional score is very high.

   CTT test scoring procedures have the advantage of being simple to compute (and to explain) whereas IRT scoring generally requires relatively complex estimation procedures. The specifics depend upon the IRT model. . it is also possible to obtain an index for a test as a whole which is directly analogous to Cronbach's alpha. First. It is worth also mentioning some specific similarities between CTT and IRT which help to understand the correspondence between concepts. discrimination in the 2PL model is approximately a monotonic function of the point-biserial correlation. Thus. where there is a higher discrimination there will generally be a higher point-biserial correlation.[24] IRT is sometimes called strong true score theory or modern mental test theory because it is a more recent body of theory and makes more explicit the hypotheses that are implicit within CTT. called the separation index. it is necessary to begin with a decomposition of an IRT estimate into a true location and error. These IRT findings are foundational for computerized adaptive testing. but most models scale the difficulty of items and the ability of people on the same metric. IRT provides several improvements in scaling items and people. To do so. The standard errors are normally produced as a by-product of the estimation process. The separation index is typically very close in value to Cronbach's alpha. and is the error association with an estimate. if the assumption holds. Another improvement provided by IRT is that the parameters of IRT models are generally not sample. Let where is the true location. Lord[23] showed that under the assumption that is normally distributed. across persons. . Another similarity is that while IRT provides for a standard error of each estimate and an information function. analogous to decomposition of an observed score into a true score and error in CTT. Thus the difficulty of an item and the ability of a person can be meaningfully compared. Then estimate of the standard deviation of for person with a given weighted score and the separation index is obtained as follows is an where the mean squared standard error of person estimate gives an estimate of the variance of the errors. In particular: where is the point biserial correlation of item i. Thus IRT provides significantly greater flexibility in situations where different samples or test forms are used.or test-dependent whereas true-score is defined in CTT in the context of a specific test.

3(4). Swaminathan. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Mahwah. Washington DC: U. Distinctions between assumptions and requirements in measurement in the Social sciences". Dies at 87. Inc. Recent Developments.F..T. New York: Springer. Probit latent class analysis with dichotomous or ordered category measures: conditional independence/dependence models. Item response theory for items scored in two categories. and Applications. (1991). R. R. Frederic Lord. J.. ^ Abramowitz M. S (Eds). Rasch Measurement Transactions. J.. version 1. (1960/1980). ^ Andrich. (6. Newbury Park. (1990).7-16. p. Theory and practice of fit..A. 18. (1968). R. K. G. 443-459. ^ Smith. pp. Jöreskog and D. 2000 12. (2004). J. 11.D. ^ Steinberg. The Theory and Practice of Item Response Theory. New York Times. Thissen & Wainer. 341363. B. (1981). New York. 23.[edit] See also         Classical test theory Concept inventory Differential item functioning Person-fit analysis Psychometrics Rasch model Scale (social sciences) Standardized test [edit] References 1. Who Devised Testing Yardstick.78. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. PRELIS 1 user's manual. G. 32(4). ^ Hambleton.J.htm 14. 15. (1999). Rasch Models: Foundations. & Henry N.H. I. NY: The Guilford Press. Sörbom(1988). 46. Probabilistic models for some intelligence and attainment tests. Aitkin M. J.D. Taft.org/rmt/rmt34b. ^ ETS Research Overview 2.W. S. 3. Marginal maximum likelihood estimation of item parameters: application of an EM algorithm. (1972). Test Scoring (pp. (1995) Effect of Rasch calibration on ability and DIF estimation in computer-adaptive tests.12). Lovibond.M. (1995). R. February 10. & Wingersky. ^ Rasch. ^ Thissen. NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 7. Fundamentals of Item Response Theory. 17. ^ K. North Holland. R. Chicago: Scientific Software. Stegun I. D. H. Applied Psychological Measurement. (Copenhagen. 9. ^ de Ayala. Handbook of Mathematical Functions. (2009). ^ Zwick. Danish Institute for Educational Research).S. Inc. 4. Journal of Educational Measurement. 1-16. 196-200. http://rasch. 42. M. 13. D. (2000). Heath. 8. in Keats. 16. CA: Sage Press. expanded edition (1980) with foreword and afterword by B. ^ Ostini & Nering 5.A.. & Orlando. G. Controversy and the Rasch model: a characteristic of incompatible paradigms? Medical Care. ^ Andrich. & Molenaar. & Rogers. ^ Lazarsfeld P. H. ^ Wright. Amsterdam. ^ Fischer. 73-140).D. 4. D (1989). H. (1992).. Elsevier Science Publishers. Psychometrika.144 19.A. R.W.. IRT in the 1990s: Which Models Work Best? Rasch measurement transactions. (2001). ^ Uebersax. ^ Nering & Ostini 6. Wright. 10. M. Thayer. Government Printing Office. 6:1. ^ Bock R. . In D.). p. (Eds. 283-297. D. Latent Structure Analysis. Mathematical and Theoretical Systems.

95-104. The Basics of Item Response Theory.J.). Mahwah. Mahwah. 9.  Van der Linden. April 24–28. Mahwah. 24. (2009)". NJ: Erlbaum. 33(2).L.A. ^ Hall. N. ^ Lord. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (New Orleans.K. F. Portions of the book are available online as limited preview at [3]. at psychologists.assess. 129-40. J. Frank (2001). Measuring Change in Teachers' Perceptions of the Impact that Staff Development Has on Teaching. This book is an accessible introduction to IRT. (1996). 21. NJ: Erlbaum. Education Research and Perspectives. and the Guttman scale response pattern. focusing on texts that provide more depth. fundamentals of IRT. This introductory book is by one of the pioneers in the field. (1982). Lingjia. & McDonald. L. F. (2004). estimation. & Hambleton. This book summaries much of Lord's IRT work.-H. Inc. New York: Springer. aimed. (2000).20 index. Michael J. (Eds. 2000).  Baker.) (1997). University of Maryland.A. NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. and several advanced topics.. College Park.  Lord. (1980).. S. R.M. http://www.  Embretson. New York: Marcel Dekker.pdf. W. S. & Kim. D. including chapters on the relationship between IRT and classical methods. Bradley A. Handbook of modern item response theory. ^ Kolen. S. ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation. This is a partial list. (1980). Item response theory for psychologists. B. Zeng. the traditional KR. Its estimation chapter is now dated in that it primarily discusses joint maximum likelihood method rather than the marginal maximum likelihood method implemented by Darrell Bock and his colleagues.20. and is available online at [2]  Baker. Journal of Educational Measurement. Hanson. . Applications of item response theory to practical testing problems. as the title says. LA.M. ^ "Thompson. [edit] Additional reading Many books have been written that address item response theory or contain IRT or IRT-like models. Item response theory: Parameter estimation techniques (2nd ed.com/docs/Thompson%20(2009)%20%20Ability%20estimation%20with%20IRT. An index of person separation in latent trait theory. F. MD. ^ Andrich. This book describes various item response theory models and furnishes detailed explanations of algorithms that can be used to estimate the item and ability parameters.[1] 23. Applications of item response theory to practical testing problems. (2000).. and Reise. Conditional Standard Errors of Measurement for Scale Scores Using IRT. 22.

This book provides a comprehensive overview regarding various popular IRT models. [edit] External links               A Simple Guide to the Item Response Theory(PDF) Psychometric Software Downloads flexMIRT IRT Software IRT Tutorial IRT Tutorial FAQ An introduction to IRT The Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing IRT Command Language (ICL) computer program IRT Programs from SSI. & Wilson.org/w/index.php?title=Item_response_theory&oldid=481610277" View page ratings Rate this page What's this? Trustworthy Objective Complete Well-written . This book discusses the Bayesian approach towards item response modeling. This volume shows an integrated introduction to item response models. M. mainly aimed at practitioners.  De Boeck. researchers and graduate students. (Eds. The book will be useful for persons (who are familiar with IRT) with an interest in analyzing item response data from a Bayesian perspective.  Fox.wikipedia. New York: Springer. Bayesian Item Response Modeling: Theory and Applications New York: Springer.) (2004). J.. P. Explanatory Item Response Models. A Generalized Linear and Nonlinear Approach. Inc.-P. IRT Programs from Assessment Systems Corporation IRT Programs from Winsteps Latent Trait Analysis and IRT Models Rasch analysis Free IRT software Retrieved from "http://en. (2010). It is well suited for persons who already have gained basic understanding of IRT.

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