Research Article

Exploring differential item functioning on reading achievement: A case for isiXhosa

Published in: South African Journal of African Languages
Volume 41, issue 1, 2021 , pages: 1–11
DOI: 10.1080/02572117.2021.1902127
Author(s): Nangamso Mtsatse, South Africa, Surette van Staden, South Africa


Interest in early childhood’s cross-cultural literacy assessment has given rise to this study. Participation of different languages in the same assessment should aim to encourage linguistic equivalence, functioning equivalence, cultural equivalence as well as metric equivalence. South Africa participated in three cycles of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). For purposes of the current study, Grade 4 learner responses to a literary passage in English and isiXhosa called, ‘The Lonely Giraffe’, were analysed. Data were analysed by firstly providing evidence of a substantially higher mean achievement for learners who wrote in English than those who wrote in isiXhosa. Differential item functioning (DIF) showed that the items did not reflect an equal distribution for a number of individual items in isiXhosa. Subsequently, the complexities of dialects in African languages are presented by providing possible alternative translations to the problematic items. The significance of the current study is in its potential to contribute to an understanding of language complexities in large scale assessments in an attempt to provide valid, reliable and fair assessment data across sub-groups.

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