Missing item responses are prevalent in educational large-scale assessment studies such as the programme for international student assessment (PISA). The current operational practice scores missing item responses as wrong, but several psychometricians have advocated for a model-based treatment based on latent ignorability assumption. In this approach, item responses and response indicators are jointly modeled conditional on a latent ability and a latent response propensity variable. Alternatively, imputation-based approaches can be used. The latent ignorability assumption is weakened in the Mislevy-Wu model that characterizes a nonignorable missingness mechanism and allows the missingness of an item to depend on the item itself. The scoring of missing item responses as wrong and the latent ignorable model are submodels of the Mislevy-Wu model. In an illustrative simulation study, it is shown that the Mislevy-Wu model provides unbiased model parameters. Moreover, the simulation replicates the finding from various simulation studies from the literature that scoring missing item responses as wrong provides biased estimates if the latent ignorability assumption holds in the data-generating model. However, if missing item responses are generated such that they can only be generated from incorrect item responses, applying an item response model that relies on latent ignorability results in biased estimates. The Mislevy-Wu model guarantees unbiased parameter estimates if the more general Mislevy-Wu model holds in the data-generating model. In addition, this article uses the PISA 2018 mathematics dataset as a case study to investigate the consequences of different missing data treatments on country means and country standard deviations. Obtained country means and country standard deviations can substantially differ for the different scaling models. In contrast to previous statements in the literature, the scoring of missing item responses as incorrect provided a better model fit than a latent ignorable model for most countries. Furthermore, the dependence of the missingness of an item from the item itself after conditioning on the latent response propensity was much more pronounced for constructed-response items than for multiple-choice items. As a consequence, scaling models that presuppose latent ignorability should be refused from two perspectives. First, the Mislevy-Wu model is preferred over the latent ignorable model for reasons of model fit. Second, in the discussion section, we argue that model fit should only play a minor role in choosing psychometric models in large-scale assessment studies because validity aspects are most relevant. Missing data treatments that countries can simply manipulate (and, hence, their students) result in unfair country comparisons.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Investigation in Health, Psychology and Education
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)1653-1687
Number of pages35
Publication statusPublished - 14.12.2021

    Research areas

  • Methodological research and method development - missing item responses, multiple imputation, item response model, PISA, country comparisons, Mislevy-Wu model, latent ignorability, nonignorable item responses

ID: 1742824