Structure and Measurement of Depression in Youths: Applying Item Response Theory to Clinical Data

David A. Cole, Li Cai, Nina C. Martin, Robert L. Findling, Eric A. Youngstrom, Judy Garber, John F. Curry, Janet S. Hyde, Marilyn J. Essex, Bruce E. Compas, Ian M. Goodyer, Paul Rohde, Kevin D. Stark, Marcia J. Slattery, Rex Forehand

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Our goals in this article were to use item response theory (IRT) to assess the relation of depressive symptoms to the underlying dimension of depression and to demonstrate how IRT-based measurement strategies can yield more reliable data about depression severity than conventional symptom counts. Participants were 3,403 children and adolescents from 12 contributing clinical and nonclinical samples; all participants had received the Kiddie Schedule of Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia for School-Aged Children. Results revealed that some symptoms reflected higher levels of depression and were more discriminating than others. Furthermore, use of IRT-based information about symptom severity and discriminability in the measurement of depression severity was shown to reduce measurement error and increase measurement fidelity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)819-833
Number of pages15
JournalPsychological Assessment
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2011


  • Adolescents
  • Children
  • Depression
  • Item response theory (IRT)
  • Kiddie-SADS (K-SADS)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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