Guidelines for Rating Scales and Andrich Thresholds

Optimizing a rating scale is "fine-tuning" to try to squeeze the last ounce of performance out of a test. So the first stage is to check that everything else about the test is working as well as is reasonable. For instance, there is no point in trying to optimize a rating scale if half the sample employ a "response set". Clean the data as much as possible. Put to one side for the moment clearly misfitting items and idiosyncratic people. When you have a core that looks like it should work well, take a look at the misfitting responses. Make sure that no data entry errors, random guessing, or other off-dimensional "bad spots" remain. Now you are ready to begin optimizing. Remember these are only guidelines. Not all apply. Not all are good to do under all circumstances. Keep a good eye on what is happening at the item level. The more you collapse categories, the more statistical and diagnostic information you lose.

Andrich thresholds are also called Step Calibrations and Step Difficulties



Measure Stability

Measure Accuracy (Fit)

Description of this sample

Inference for next sample


Scale oriented with latent variable






At least 10 observations of each category.






Regular observation distribution.






Observed Average measures (of the persons in the category) advance monotonically with category.






OUTFIT mean‑squares less than 2.0.






Andrich thresholds advance.






Ratings imply measures, and measures imply ratings.






Andrich thresholds advance by at least 1.4 logits.






Andrich thresholds advance by less than 5.0 logits





Summary of Guideline Pertinence. from JAM, 2002

This is an early research note. See Journal of Applied Measurement 3:1 2002 p.85-106.

See also:
Optimizing Rating Scales for Self-Efficacy (and Other) Research. Smith Jr. E.V.; Wakely M.B.; de Kruif R.E.L.; Swartz C.W.
Educational and Psychological Measurement, 1 June 2003, vol. 63, no. 3, pp. 369-391(23)
This article (a) discusses the assumptions underlying the use of rating scales, (b) describes the use of information available within the context of Rasch measurement that may be useful for optimizing rating scales, and (c) demonstrates the process in two studies. Participants in the first study were 330 fourth- and fifth-grade students. Participants provided responses to the Index of Self-Efficacy for Writing. Based on category counts, average measures, thresholds and category fit statistics, the responses on the original 10-point scale were better represented by a 4-point scale. The modified 4-point scale was given to a replication sample of 668 fourth- and fifth-grade students. The rating scale structure was found to be congruent with the results from the first study. In addition, the item fit statistics and item hierarchy indicated the writing self-efficacy construct to be stable across the two samples. Combined, these results provide evidence for the generalizability of the findings and hence utility of this scale for use with samples of respondents from the same population.

Example: Guilford's Ratings of Creativity, (Psychometric Methods p.282 Guilford 1954)

|           DATA                 |   QUALITY CONTROL |RASCH-ANDRICH|  EXPECTATION  |  MOST  |  RASCH-  | Cat|Response|
|      Category Counts       Cum.|  Avge  Exp. OUTFIT| Thresholds  |  Measure at   |PROBABLE| THURSTONE|PEAK|Category|
|Score Total      Used    %    % |  Meas  Meas  MnSq |Measure  S.E.|Category  -0.5 |  from  |Thresholds|Prob|  Name  |
|  1       4         4    4%   4%|  -.86   -.72   .8 |             |( -2.70)       |   low  |   low    |100%| lowest |
|  2       4         4    4%   8%|  -.11   -.57  2.7 |  -.64    .53|  -1.65   -2.21|        |  -1.75   | 17%|        |
|  3      25        25   24%  31%|  -.36*  -.40   .9 | -2.32    .39|   -.93   -1.26|  -1.48 |  -1.39   | 48%|        |
|  4       8         8    8%  39%|  -.43*  -.22   .5 |   .83    .25|   -.41    -.66|        |   -.46   | 11%|        |
|  5      31        31   30%  69%|  -.04   -.03   .8 | -1.48    .24|    .02    -.19|   -.32 |   -.29   | 39%| middle |
|  6       6         6    6%  74%|  -.46*   .17  4.1 |  1.71    .25|    .44     .23|        |    .34   |  9%|        |
|  7      21        21   20%  94%|   .45    .34   .6 | -1.00    .26|    .94     .68|    .35 |    .47   | 47%|        |
|  8       3         3    3%  97%|   .74    .49   .5 |  2.36    .44|   1.62    1.24|        |   1.37   | 16%|        |
|  9       3         3    3% 100%|   .77    .60   .8 |   .54    .60|(  2.69)   2.17|   1.45 |   1.70   |100%| highest|

Probability Curves

 -3.0       -2.0       -1.0        0.0        1.0        2.0        3.0
1 |                                                                   |
  |                                                                   |
  |1                                                                 9|
  | 111                                                           999 |
  |    11                                                      999    |
P |      11                                                  99       |
r |        11                                               9         |
o |          1                                            99          |
b |           11                                         9            |
a |             1                                       9             |
b |              1        3                           99              |
i |               1   3333 333             77777777  9                |
l |                133        33   555   77        7*                 |
i |               3311          355   55*          9 7                |
t |              3    1        5533    7 55       9   77              |
y |            33      1     55    3 77    5    99      77            |
  |          33         11  5       *       55 9          77          |
  |       2**2222222222222**      77 33      9*5888888888888**        |
  |2222***3            55*****44**444*6**66***8855            ***8888 |
  |3333           4****44    7******6 ******3 6666****           7777*|
0 |*******************************************************************|
 -3.0       -2.0       -1.0        0.0        1.0        2.0        3.0

First, express the rating scale as a clearly defined, substantively relevant, ordered sequence of categories. Then use these guidelines to check it for measurement effectiveness.

Guideline 1: At least 10 observations of a category.

Andrich threshold (Fk) is approximately the log-ratio of the frequency of adjacent categories. When category frequency is low, then the Andrich threshold is poorly estimated and unstable.
In example: Used counts as low as 3.
Solution: combine adjacent categories, or omit observations (e.g., "don't know")

Guideline 2: Observation distribution.

Irregularity in category observation frequency signals irregularity in usage. Look for unimodal use or peaking in a central or extreme categories.
In example: roller-coaster Used distribution.
Solution: combine adjacent categories, or omit observations (e.g., "other")

Guideline 3: Average category measures advance.

Observed Average measures (of the persons whose observations are in the category) are an empirical indicator of the context in which the category is used. Since higher categories are intended to reflect higher measures, then the average measures are expected to advance.
In example: average measure for category 6 is noticeably less than for category 5.
Solution: combine out of order categories with those below them.

Guideline 4: Outfit mean-squares less than 2.0.

We model a definite amount of randomness in choosing categories. This amount is indicated by a mean-square of 1.0. Values over 2.0 indicate that there is more unexpected than expected randomness. A high mean-square value indicates that this category has been used in contexts in which the expected category is far different.
In example: category 6 has a mean-square of 4.1.
Solution: omit observations, combine categories or drop categories.

Guideline 5: Andrich thresholds advance.

Advancing Andrich thresholds imply that each category in turn is most likely to be chosen. This makes the probability curves look like a range of hills. Disordered Andrich thresholds imply that a category may not be observed as one advances along the variable. Categories with narrow definitions produce disordered Andrich thresholds. Disordered Andrich thresholds do not mean that the categories are out of order. The decision to eliminate or combine narrow categories must be decided substantively based on the reasons for selecting the rating categories. for developmental scales, ordered categories support the interpretation that a rating of k implies having passed through k-1 lower categories.
In example: Andrich Threshold 3 is less than Andrich threshold 2.
Solution: combine categories, edit data, but may not be attainable.

Guideline 6: Ratings imply measures, and measures imply ratings.

This is useful for inference and for confirming the construct validity of the rating scale. Most users of your findings will assume this is true. This is true when the observed values of the average measures measures for each category approximate their expected values.
In example: the most conspicuous failure is category 6. The observed average measure is -.46 logits. The expected average measure is .17 logits. The difference is 0.63 logits.
Solution: combine categories, edit data. A reasonable approximation is usually attainable.

Guideline 7: Andrich thresholds advance by at least 1.4 logits.

When all Andrich threshold advances are larger than 1.4 logits, then the rating scale can be decomposed, in theory, into a series of independent dichotomous items. Even though such dichotomies may not be empirically meaningful, their possibility implies that the rating scale is equivalent to a subtest of (category count - 1) dichotomies. For developmental scale, this supports the interpretation that a rating of k implies successful leaping of k hurdles.
1.4 logits lessens with more categories. In general, for m+1 categories -> m dichotomous items, the minimum thresholds are ln(x / (m+1-x)) for x=1 to m.
In example: this is not seen, due to disordering.
Solution: combine categories, edit data, but may not be attainable.

Guideline 8: Andrich thresholds advance by less than 5.0 logits

When adjacent Andrich thresholds are too far apart, then a category becomes too wide and a less informative dead zone appears in the middle of the category. This corresponds to a sag in the statistical information available from the item. Often this results from Guttman-style (forced consensus) rating procedures.
In example: this is not seen. The thresholds are close together.
Solution: define more categories; change rating procedures.

MESA Research Note #2 by John Michael Linacre
Midwest Objective Measurement Seminar, Chicago, June 1997

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