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Journal of Aging Research
Volume 2013, Article ID 654589, 6 pages
Research Article

Differential Item Functioning Related to Age in the Reading Subtest of the Test of Functional Health Literacy in Adults

1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33318, USA
2Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA

Received 10 June 2013; Accepted 7 August 2013

Academic Editor: F. Richard Ferraro

Copyright © 2013 Raymond L. Ownby and Drenna Waldrop-Valverde. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Differential item functioning (DIF) occurs when items in a measure perform in ways that are different for members of a target group when the different performance is not related to the individual’s overall ability to be assessed. DIF may arise for a number of reasons but is often evaluated in order to ensure that tests and measures are fair evaluations of a group’s abilities. Based on observations when administering the test, we developed the hypothesis that some items on the reading comprehension subtest of the Test of Functional Health Literacy (TOFHLA) might be differentially more difficult for older adults and the elderly due to its use of the cloze response format, in which the participant is required to determine what word, when placed in a blank space in a sentence, will ensure that the sentence is intelligible. Others have suggested that the cloze response format may make demands on verbal fluency, an ability that is reduced with the increasing age. Our analyses show that age-related DIF may present in a nearly one-half of reading comprehension items of the TOFHLA. Results of this measure in older persons should be interpreted cautiously.