Background The objective of this study is to reveal on the basis of the item response theory (IRT) the validity and reliability evidence for the data obtained from the scale prepared to determine the satisfaction with distance education in students studying in medical schools. Methods This is a quantitative study exploring IRT and measurement invariance evidence in developing a scale. The scale whose IRT evidence was explored was the Distance Education Satisfaction Scale (DESS). The data were obtained from 1332 medical school students who were studying at various universities. The data were analysed using the confirmatory factor analysis (CFA), multidimensional and unidimensional IRT, and measurement invariance. Results A 20-item construct with 3 sub-factors was found for DESS. This construct was unable to pass the iteration limit in the multidimensional IRT analysis. A unidimensional IRT was used assuming that the 3 sub-factors were locally independent. Conclusions The least informative items were item 23, 24 and 25 in Factor 1, item 3 in Factor 2, and items 13 and 18 in Factor 3. The most informative items of DESS were those that had adaptive, useful expressions that had meaningful content and were able to provide educator support, which are the properties emphasized in the literature with respect to satisfaction with distance education. A measurement invariance test made based on gender revealed that DESS satisfied measurement invariance by meeting the compliance indexes required for configural, metric, scalar and strict invariance as recommended in the literature. The results showed that it is possible to make comparisons on the basis of gender using DESS.