Using SAS PROC NLMIXED to fit item response theory models

Ching Fan Sheu, Cheng T.E. Chen, S. U. Ya-Hui, Wen Chung Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


Researchers routinely construct tests or questionnaires containing a set of items that measure personality traits, cognitive abilities, political attitudes, and so forth. Topically, responses to these items are scored in discrete categories, such as points on a Likert scale or a choice out of several mutually exclusive alternatives. Item response theory (IRT) explains observed responses to items on a test (questionnaire) by a person's unobserved trait, ability, or attitude. Although applications of IRT modeling have increased considerably because of its utility in developing and assessing measuring instruments, IRT modeling has not been fully integrated into the curriculum of colleges and universities, mainly because existing general purpose statistical packages do not provide built-in routines with which to perform IRT modeling. Recent advances in statistical theory and the incorporation of those advances into general purpose statistical software such as the Statistical Analysis System (SAS) allow researchers to analyze measurement data by using a class of models known as generalized linear mixed effects models (McCulloch & Searle, 2001), which include IRT models as special cases. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the generality and flexibility of using SAS to estimate IRT model parameters. With real data examples, we illustrate the implementations of a variety of IRT models for dichotomous, polytomous, and nominal responses. Since SAS is widely available in educational institutions, it is hoped that this article will contribute to the spread of IRT modeling in quantitative courses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)202-218
Number of pages17
JournalBehavior Research Methods
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2005 May

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology(all)


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