Improving the Measurement of School Climate Using Item Response Theory

Sarah Lindstrom Johnson, Ray E. Reichenberg, Kathan Shukla, Tracy E. Waasdorp, Catherine P. Bradshaw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The U.S. government has become increasingly focused on school climate, as recently evidenced by its inclusion as an accountability indicator in the Every Student Succeeds Act. Yet, there remains considerable variability in both conceptualizing and measuring school climate. To better inform the research and practice related to school climate and its measurement, we leveraged item response theory (IRT), a commonly used psychometric approach for the design of achievement assessments, to create a parsimonious measure of school climate that operates across varying individual characteristics. Students (n = 69,513) in 111 secondary schools completed a school climate assessment focused on three domains of climate (i.e., safety, engagement, and environment), as defined by the U.S. Department of Education. Item and test characteristics were estimated using the mirt package in R using unidimensional IRT. Analyses revealed measurement difficulties that resulted in a greater ability to assess less favorable perspectives on school climate. Differential item functioning analyses indicated measurement differences based on student academic success. These findings support the development of a broad measure of school climate but also highlight the importance of work to ensure precision in measuring school climate, particularly when considering use as an accountability measure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-107
Number of pages9
JournalEducational Measurement: Issues and Practice
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019


  • item response theory
  • measurement invariance
  • school accountability
  • school climate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


Dive into the research topics of 'Improving the Measurement of School Climate Using Item Response Theory'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this