Northstar Digital Literacy

Northstar is a program of Literacy Minnesota, whose mission is to share the power of learning through education, community building, and advocacy.

About Northstar

Northstar Digital Literacy defines basic skills needed to perform tasks on computers and online. Online, self-guided modules assess the ability of individuals to perform tasks based on these skills. Included are basic computer digital literacy standards and modules in three main areas:

  • Essential Computer Skills - Basic Computer Skills, Internet Basics, Using Email, Windows OS, Mac OS
  • Essential Software Skills – Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Google Docs
  • Using Technology in Daily Life - Social Media, Information Literacy, Career Search Skills, Supporting K-12 Distance Learning, Your Digital Footprint.

Northstar was developed in response to the needs of job seekers who may lack the digital literacy skills needed to seek, obtain, and retain employment, as well as to perform other tasks in daily life. Northstar allows end users to freely take the assessments from anywhere via our homepage, but individuals can instead go to an approved testing location and obtain the Northstar Digital Literacy Certificate when they pass assessments. Certificates provide an important credential for employment, as even entry-level jobs increasingly require basic computer skills. Certificates also certify end user ability to complete computer skills needed in higher education, and demonstrate their ability to use social media and online information thoughtfully. If individuals do not pass, personalized assessment results provide a roadmap to relevant instruction, allowing them to retake the assessment once they have mastered the necessary skills. Northstar also includes learning resources to support adult learners to master the standards outlined. Learning resources include classroom curriculum that can be used in person or remotely, and Northstar Online Learning, which provides self-directed instruction and practice for individuals.

Northstar is used by over 1595 Adult Basic Education programs, colleges, nonprofits, workforce centers, government agencies, and businesses. There is no cost to complete the assessments on the Northstar homepage.

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Timeline & History

Frequently Asked Questions

General Information


  • Public assessments are assessments taken directly from our homepage. Public assessment results are not saved with any identifying information.

    An unproctored assessment is an assessment taken on the assessment launch page of one of our subscribing locations. Each subscribing location is given a unique launch page. The results of assessments taken on this page are stored, so proctors (teachers) at that location can review results. However, certificates for passing results cannot be printed for unproctored assessments.

    A proctored assessment is an assessment taken on the assessment launch page under proctor supervision at one of our subscribing locations. If a test taker passes a proctored assessment, the proctor can print a Northstar certificate for the test taker. Proctoring can be done in person or remotely.

  • Yes, test takers can go back and change their answers to questions, as long as they have not exited the assessment. The orientation video available at the start of each assessment shows how to do this.

  • No, this would invalidate the result of future assessments. However, participants do receive a printed report identifying areas of strength and areas needing work. The results report lists which Northstar standards they have mastered, and which standards they need to improve. If a learner takes an assessment while logged into a Northstar Online Learning (NSOL) account, links to NSOL content specific to each standard are provided where available.

  • We agree that there are different ways to accomplish any given task on a computer. We tried to include as many alternatives as possible, and provide more specific instructions where response options are limited.

  • Digital badges are a form of digital credential that Northstar test takers can use to record and keep track of assessments they have passed. Badgr, the organization that Northstar uses for badging, has a common system for issuing, collecting, and displaying badges earned on multiple instructional websites, including Northstar. Learners can create accounts with Badgr to save badges earned in many different learning contexts, which learners can later share with employers or other stakeholders who need to know their skills and experience. Learners can claim badges for unproctored or proctored assessments, and this will be indicated on the badge. Please visit Badgr's website for more information on badging.

    Learners are not required to keep badges or make an account with Badgr to keep track of assessment results. All assessments taken through Northstar locations are saved automatically to the location’s Admin Portal, and Northstar locations can award certificates to learners who pass proctored assessments. Additionally, learners with Northstar Online Learning accounts can keep track of their results on the learning dashboard.

  • The Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment is a resource intended to support instruction. We view it as a way to see what people already know and to identify areas in which additional skills are needed. A secondary purpose of the assessment is to provide a means by which learners can demonstrate those skills to others, like future employers.

    When a learner takes the test multiple times as a way of improving their results, their test results do not represent demonstrable skills; rather, their test results only show their ability to guess at/remember the correct answer. In the long run, this testing strategy will undermine both the efficacy of the certificates awarded and the skill development of the learner.

    As a result, learners at Northstar locations are limited to taking each assessment twice per day. We highly recommend that Northstar locations provide instruction between testing attempts and refrain from serial testing without instruction in between the test events. Please provide an hour or so of learning per skill area identified as needing improvement before retesting. This will ensure the instructional needs of those assessed are met, while helping to maintain the integrity and credibility of the certificate.

    Individuals completing assessments on our public website are limited to taking each assessment once per day.

  • Unfortunately, assessments taken on our public website are not saved with users’ identifying information, so we are unable to look them up with a person’s name. Make sure to save or print assessment results.

    Another option is taking the assessment at one of our locations. All assessments taken at any Northstar location are automatically saved and can be accessed by a proctor (teacher) at the location. You can find a Northstar location here.

  • There are a couple of reasons this can happen.

    1. A firewall may be limiting what content you can download. Please see the following question about firewalls for information on how to enable Northstar through a firewall.
    2. A pop-up blocker or ad-blocker extension installed in your browser can sometimes block our content. Disabling the extension has helped. Trying another browser also sometimes helps.

    If neither of these work, please contact us at for more assistance.

  • In order to have users' experience of Northstar be successful, certain domain names need to be allowed. For many Northstar locations, there are no problems with these, and all domains work. For some Northstar locations that have a firewall, though, admins may need to direct their IT dept to "whitelist" the following domain names so their content can be seen/used:

  • No, the assessment must be completed in one sitting. If a learner navigates away from the assessment or if the internet connection is lost, then the assessment must be restarted.

Northstar Curriculum

  • The curriculum is aligned with Northstar Digital Literacy standards and supports adult learners in meeting the requirements of the Northstar Digital Literacy assessments. Each unit of curriculum contains 7-9 two-hour lesson plans (Career Search Skills includes 15 lesson plans to address the extensive standards for that topic). Lesson plans are learner-centered, interactive, and easy to use. Each lesson includes helpful teacher tips and detailed instructions to prepare for the lesson. The curriculum is accessible as a resource to subscribing Northstar locations. Most assessments have corresponding curricula, and we are working on the remainder.

  • No, lesson plans are independent of one another. They can be taught in order, or teachers may choose lessons for their class based on needed instruction for specific Northstar Digital Literacy standards. We recommend teachers use the Northstar assessments as pre-tests to guide instruction.

  • The curriculum supports adult English language learners at an Intermediate Level, as defined by the NRS (National Reporting System) as a CASAS reading level 211, or higher, or a TABE (11-12) Reading Score of 501 or higher; this is equivalent to a 4th grade reading level. Because of the predictable structure of the curriculum and because we explicitly identify and give guidance to teach digital literacy vocabulary to support learners reading at an intermediate ESL level, teachers/programs have successfully adapted the lessons on their own for lower level-English learners.

  • The lessons were written to support classroom teachers, as well as volunteer tutors working with small groups. Lessons may be adapted by teachers for one-on-one instruction or to teach remotely. Access to computers, a projector, and internet are necessary to facilitate the curriculum in person. Northstar provides tips for teachers to facilitate remote instruction of the lessons (see the following question for more information on remote instruction).

  • Northstar Digital Literacy offers paper-based screeners as an aid in determining whether individuals have the level of computer skills needed to take the Northstar assessments in a meaningful manner. The screeners are PDFs meant to be administered by a teacher or tutor, and each has about 10 questions. The use of screeners is optional. You can find the screeners in your site’s Admin Portal in the Resources Folder. They are listed in Other Resources.

    If individuals have very beginning level computer skills, it is best to provide some instruction prior to having them take the assessments so they do not become overly frustrated by attempting to complete assessments far above their skill level.

  • Yes! We have created several resources to help support remote teaching. For each lesson plan, we have created a Remote Learning Page. The Remote Learning Page includes all of the projectable references and handouts featured in that lesson. Teachers can share remote learning pages with their learners. Additionally, we have also created documents detailing Northstar Tips for Remote Teaching, as well as a Sample Agenda for First Virtual Class Meeting. All of these resources can be accessed in the Admin Portal in the curriculum section.

Northstar Online Learning

Proctor and Admin Tasks

These days, every employee needs basic computer skills to perform even most entry-level jobs. Northstar Digital Literacy helps job seekers demonstrate to employers that they have mastered basic skills.