Portfolios are collections of students' work over time. A portfolio often documents a student's best work and may include other types of process information, such as drafts of the student's work, the student's self-assessment of the work, and the parents' assessment. Portfolios may be used for evaluation of a student's abilities and improvement.

In recent years, portfolios of students' performance and products have gained impressive degrees of support from educators, who view them as a way to collect authentic evidence of children's learning. For many early childhood educators, portfolios are an attractive alternative to more traditional assessment approaches. Often, however, teachers raise important questions about what portfolios contain, what benefits they will bring to the classroom and the children, and how they can be managed.

What do portfolios contain? Grosvenor (1993, pp. 14-15) lists three basic models:

DeFina (1992) lists the following assumptions about portfolio assessment:

What benefits can they bring? Teachers who have experience with portfolio assessment report that it complements such developmentally appropriate curriculum and instruction as whole language, hands-on approaches, and process mathematics. It also allows them to assess children's individual learning styles, enhances their ability to communicate with parents about children's learning, and helps to fulfill professional requirements of school and community accountability (Polakowski, 1993). Implemented well, portfolios can ensure that the focus and content of assessment are aligned with important learning goals.

How can they be managed? The planning, collecting, storing, and interpreting of authentic information on children's progress over time is time consuming. Many teachers are initially hesitant or resistant to use portfolio assessment because they fear that adding it to their existing responsibilities may prove overwhelming.

Teachers who have made the transition from traditional assessment to portfolio assessment advise that it requires a refocusing, not a redoubling of teacher effort. Since the kinds of materials collected are typical classroom tasks, assessment and instruction are joined together with curriculum. Time spent in this kind of assessment, then, is not time taken away from teaching and learning activities (Polakowski, 1993; Tierney, Carter, & Desai, 1991).

Polakowski (1993, pp. 52-53) describes three management techniques she uses concurrently for instruction and individualized assessment:

Using such techniques, a teacher is able to engage in one-to-one assessment conferences or instructional conversations and collect products for assessment purposes.

What resources are available to help? The following are available from the growing published resources in this field:

For additional information, refer to The Portfolio and Its Use: Developmentally Appropriate Assessment of Young Children (Grace, 1992).


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