ADHD Parent and Teacher Symptom Ratings: Differential Item Functioning across Gender, Age, Race, and Ethnicity


Parent and teacher ratings of the two attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptom dimensions (i.e., inattention, hyperactivity-impulsivity) have been found to differ across child gender, age, race, and ethnicity. Group differences could be due to actual variation in symptomatic behaviors but also could be due to measurement items functioning differently based on child characteristics. This study extended prior investigations establishing measurement invariance at the symptom dimension and item levels, by examining possible measurement variance across child demographic characteristics at the item level (i.e., differential item functioning [DIF]) in two large national samples. Using the Rasch rating scale model (Andrich Psychometrika, 43, 561–73, 1978), we examined DIF of the 18 ADHD symptoms in samples of 2079 children (n = 1037 males) from 5 to 17 years old (M = 10.7; SD = 3.8) rated by parents and 1070 children (n = 535 males) aged from 5 to 17 years old (M = 11.5; SD = 3.5) rated by teachers. All but six ADHD symptom items showed DIF across child age, gender, race (Black vs. White), and ethnicity with more items showing DIF for age than for gender, race, or ethnicity. For child gender and age, more items showed DIF for parent than for teacher ratings. More items showed DIF across racial groups for teacher than for parent ratings. Only two parent- and teacher-rated items showed DIF for ethnicity. Implications of findings for practice, research, and future iterations of ADHD diagnostic criteria are discussed.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Access options

Buy single article

Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.

US$ 39.95

Price includes VAT for USA

Subscribe to journal

Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.

US$ 199

This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.


  1. 1.

    Some studies have found ADHD symptom ratings to comprise three or more dimensions (e.g., Merrell & Tymms, 2003; Tymms & Merrell, 2011), and confirmatory factor analyses of the ARS-5 supported both a two-factor and three-factor structure. Because there was no substantive difference between these models, a two-factor solution consistent with the DSM-5 was applied.

  2. 2.

    The 1-PL IRT and the dichotomous Rasch models are mathematically the same, with one free item parameter—item difficulty—for estimation. Both the 2- and 3-PL IRT models include an additional item parameter—item discrimination. Further, the 3-PL IRT estimates an extra pseudo-guessing parameter. In spite of their mathematical and measurement connection with each other, many researchers see the Rasch model as being fundamentally different from other IRT models (e.g., 1-, 2-, and 3-PL IRT). For instance, the Rasch model is more prescriptive than descriptive, requiring data to fit the model expectations, rather than the other way to explain as much variance in data as possible (Andrich, 2004; Boone, Staver, & Yale, 2014; Linacre, 2005).

  3. 3.

    DIF analyses for child race were restricted to children from Black or White backgrounds for two reasons. First, the largest and most consistent racial differences for ADHD symptom dimension ratings have been obtained for Black relative to White children. Second, the cell size for other racial groups (e.g., Asian) was relatively small.


  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

  2. Anastopoulos, A. D., Beal, K. K., Reid, R. J., Reid, R., Power, T. J., & DuPaul, G. J. (2018). Impact of child and informant gender on parent and teacher ratings of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Psychological Assessment. Advance online publication.

  3. Andrich, D. (1978). A rating formulation for ordered response categories. Psychometrika, 43, 561–573.

  4. Andrich, D. (2004). Controversy and the Rasch model: A characteristic of incompatible paradigms? In E. V. Smith Jr. & R. M. Smith (Eds.), Introduction to Rasch measurement: Theory, models and applications (pp. 143–166). Maple Grove: JAM Press.

  5. Boone, W. J., Staver, J. R., & Yale, M. S. (2014). Rasch analysis in the human sciences. Dordrecht: Springer.

  6. Burns, G. L., Walsh, J. A., Gomez, R., & Hafetz, N. (2006). Measurement and structural invariance of parent ratings of ADHD and ODD symptoms across gender for American and Malaysian children. Psychological Assessment, 18, 452–457.

  7. Chorozoglou, M., Smith, E., Koerting, J., Thompson, M. J., Sayal, K., & Sonuga-Barke, E. J. S. (2015). Preschool hyperactivity is associated with long-term economic burden: Evidence from a longitudinal health economic analysis of costs incurred across childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 56, 966–975.

  8. de Ramirez, R. D., & Shapiro, E. S. (2005). Effects of student ethnicity on judgments of ADHD symptoms among Hispanic and white teachers. School Psychology Quarterly, 20, 268–287.

  9. DuPaul, G. J., Power, T. J., Anastopoulos, A. D., & Reid, R. (2016a). ADHD rating Scale-5 for children and adolescents: Checklists, norms, and clinical interpretation. New York: Guilford.

  10. DuPaul, G. J., Reid, R., Anastopoulos, A. D., Lambert, M. C., Watkins, M. W., & Power, T. J. (2016b). Parent and teacher ratings of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms: Factor structure and normative data. Psychological Assessment, 28, 214–225.

  11. DuPaul, G. J., Reid, R., Anastopoulos, A. D., & Power, T. J. (2014). Assessing ADHD symptomatic behaviors and functional impairment in school settings: Impact of student and teacher characteristics. School Psychology Quarterly, 29, 409–421.

  12. Gomez, R. (2007). Testing gender differential item functioning for ordinal and binary scored parent rated ADHD symptoms. Personality and Individual Differences, 42, 733–742.

  13. Gomez, R. (2008a). Item response theory analyses of the parent and teacher ratings of the DSM-IV ADHD rating scale. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 36, 865–885.

  14. Gomez, R. (2008b). Parent ratings of the ADHD items of the disruptive behavior rating scale: Analyses of their IRT properties based on the generalized partial credit model. Personality and Individual Differences, 45, 181–186.

  15. Gomez, R., Vance, A., & Gomez, A. (2011). Item response theory analyses of parent and teacher ratings of the ADHD symptoms for recoded dichotomous scores. Journal of Attention Disorders, 15, 269–285.

  16. Lahey, B. B., Applegate, B., McBurnett, K., Biederman, J., Greenhill, L., Hynd, G. W., et al. (1994). DSM-IV field trials for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents. American Journal of Psychiatry, 151, 1673–1685.

  17. Leopold, D. R., Christopher, M. E., Olson, R. K., Petrill, S. A., & Willcutt, E. G. (2018). Invariance of ADHD symptoms across sex and age: A latent analysis of ADHD and impairment ratings from early childhood into adolescence. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. Advance online publication.

  18. Li, J. J., Reise, S. P., Chronis-Tuscano, A., Mikami, A. Y., & Lee, S. S. (2016). Item response theory analysis of ADHD symptoms in children with and without ADHD. Assessment, 23, 655–671.

  19. Linacre, J. M. (2002). Optimizing rating scale category effectiveness. Journal of Applied Measurement, 3, 85–106.

  20. Linacre, J. M. (2005). Rasch dichotomous model vs. one-parameter logistic model. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 19(3), 1032.

  21. Linacre, J. M. (2019a). Winsteps® (Version 4.4.5) [computer software]. Beaverton, Oregon:

  22. Linacre, J. M. (2019b). Winsteps® Rasch measurement computer program User’s guide. Beaverton, Oregon:

  23. Longford, N. T., Holland, P. W., & Thayer, D. T. (1993). Stability of the MH D-DIF statistics across populations. In P. W. Holland & H. Wainer (Eds.), Differential item functioning (pp. 171–196). Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc..

  24. Lord, F. M., & Novick, M. R. (1968). Statistical theories of mental test scores. Oxford: Addison-Wesley.

  25. Makransky, G., & Bilenberg, N. (2014). Psychometric properties of the parent and teacher ADHD rating scale (ADHD-RS): Measurement invariance across gender, age, and informant. Assessment, 21, 694–705.

  26. Masters, G. N. (1982). A Rasch model for partial credit scoring. Psychometrica, 47, 149–174.

  27. Merrell, C. & Tymms, P. (2003, April). Rasch analysis of inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive behaviour in young children and the link with academic achievement. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association annual meeting, Chicago IL.

  28. Miller, T. W., Nigg, J. T., & Miller, R. L. (2009). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in African American children: What can be concluded from the past ten years? Clinical Psychology Review, 29, 77–86.

  29. Ohan, J. L., & Johnston, C. (2005). Gender appropriateness of symptom criteria for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and conduct disorder. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 35, 359–381.

  30. Paek, I. (2002). Investigation of differential item functioning: Comparisons among approaches, and extension to a multidimensional context (unpublished doctoral dissertation). Berkeley: University of California.

  31. Polanczyk, G. V., Willcutt, E. G., Salum, G. A., Kieling, C., & Rohde, L. A. (2014). ADHD prevalence estimates across three decades : An updated systematic review and meta-regression analysis. International Journal of Epidemiology, 432), 434–442.

  32. Potenza, M. T., & Dorans, N. J. (1995). DIF assessment for polytomously scored items: A framework for classification and evaluation. Applied Psychological Measurement, 19, 23–37.

  33. Power, T. J., Watkins, M. W., Anastopoulos, A. D., Reid, R., Lambert, M. C., & DuPaul, G. J. (2017). Multi-informant assessment of ADHD symptom-related impairments among children and adolescents. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 46, 661–674.

  34. Rasch, G. (1960). Probabilistic models for some intelligence and attainment tests. Copenhagen, Denmark: Danish Institute for Educational Research. (expanded edition, 1980. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.)

  35. Reid, R., Riccio, C. A., Kessler, R. H., DuPaul, G. J., Power, T. J., Anastopoulos, A. D., Rogers-Adkinson, D., & Noll, M. B. (2000). Gender and ethnic differences in ADHD as assessed by behavior ratings. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 8, 38–48.

  36. Reynolds, R. C., & Kamphaus, W. R. (2015). Behavior Assessment System for Children-3 rded. (BASC-3). Bloomington, MN: Pearson.

  37. Smith Jr., E. V. (2001). Reliability of measures and validity of measure interpretation: A Rasch measurement perspective. Journal of Applied Measurement, 2, 281–311.

  38. Smith Jr., E. V. (2002). Detecting and evaluating the impact of multidimensionality using item fit statistics and principal component analysis of residuals. Journal of Applied Measurement, 3, 205–231.

  39. Smith Jr., E. V. (2005). Effect of item redundancy on Rasch item and person estimates. Journal of Applied Measurement, 6, 147–163.

  40. Smith, R. M., & Miao, C. Y. (1994). Assessing unidimensionality for Rasch measurement. In M. Wilson (Ed.), Objective measurement: Theory into practice (Vol. 2, pp. 316–327). Norwood: Ablex.

  41. Tymms, P., & Merrell, C. (2011). ADHD and academic attainment: Is there an advantage in impulsivity? Learning and Individual Differences, 21, 753–758.

  42. Wolraich, M. L., Lambert, W., Doffing, M. A., Bickman, L., Simmons, T., & Worley, K. (2003). Psychometric properties of the Vanderbilt ADHD diagnostic parent rating scale in a referred population. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 28(8), 559–567.

  43. Young, D. J., Levy, F., Martin, N. C., & Hay, D. A. (2009). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: A Rasch analysis of the SWAN rating scale. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 40, 543–559.

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to George J. DuPaul.

Ethics declarations

Ethical Approval

All study procedures were in accordance with ethical standards of the institution and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Conflict of interest

Drs. Anastopoulos, DuPaul, Power, and Reid receive royalties for the ADHD Rating Scale-5.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Electronic supplementary material


(DOCX 179 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

DuPaul, G.J., Fu, Q., Anastopoulos, A.D. et al. ADHD Parent and Teacher Symptom Ratings: Differential Item Functioning across Gender, Age, Race, and Ethnicity. J Abnorm Child Psychol (2020) doi:10.1007/s10802-020-00618-7

Download citation


  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Parent ratings
  • Teacher ratings
  • Differential item functioning