Identifying Unbiased Items for Screening Preschoolers for Disruptive Behavior Problems

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Objective: Efficient identification and referral to behavioral services are crucial in addressing early-onset disruptive behavior problems. Existing screening instruments for preschoolers are not ideal for pediatric primary care settings serving diverse populations. Eighteen candidate items for a new brief screening instrument were examined to identify those exhibiting measurement bias (i.e., differential item functioning, DIF) by child characteristics. Method: Parents/guardians of preschool-aged children (N = 900) from four primary care settings completed two full-length behavioral rating scales. Items measuring disruptive behavior problems were tested for DIF by child race, sex, and socioeconomic status using two approaches: item response theory-based likelihood ratio tests and ordinal logistic regression. Results: Of 18 items, eight were identified with statistically significant DIF by at least one method. Conclusions: The bias observed in 8 of 18 items made them undesirable for screening diverse populations of children. These items were excluded from the new brief screening tool.