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, Accessing Telehealth Appointments, 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 Northstar 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 3210 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

    • an internet connection; we do not offer an offline version
    • headphones for test takers to hear the audio in the modules
    • keyboard and preferably also a mouse or trackpad (currently not optimized for touchscreen-only mobile devices)
    • a modern browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge)
  • For more information on becoming a Northstar location, including the benefits and costs, please visit https://www.digitalliteracyassessment.org/become-a-testing-location.

  • Anyone who needs to assess and/or improve their basic digital literacy skills. Northstar is designed primarily for adults 18 and older.

  • Absolutely. The assessments, Northstar Online Learning (NSOL,) and the Northstar curricula were designed with English language learners in mind. A mid-level/intermediate English reading comprehension ability is needed to complete the assessments. All questions are offered in both written and audio forms with the chance to replay the audio questions as needed.


    Please be advised some of the assessments aligned to the Standards for Using Technology in Daily Life, such as Career Search Skills and Information Literacy, may need a higher level English reading comprehension and digital literacy skills. In particular, we recommend that learners have passed the Basic Computer Skills, Internet Basics, Using Email, and Microsoft Word assessments.

  • Yes! All of the Northstar assessments are now available in Spanish. We also have Northstar Online Learning (NSOL) modules available in Spanish, except for Telehealth and Supporting K-12 Distance Learning (English version modules for those two units are still in development).

  • Northstar can be used in K-12 contexts with students 13 and older, if desired. We do not recommending using it with students younger than 13 due to the level of language and concepts required.

  • Closed captioning is available in all assessment modules, and modules were developed to be screen-reader compliant. Each Northstar location will be responsible for providing other accommodations as requested. Northstar locations will provide readers as needed for individuals with documented dyslexia or related conditions when they complete the assessments.

    If questions arise regarding specific accommodations, or if you discover a problem while using a screen reader that we missed in our testing, please contact us at support@digitalliteracyassessment.org and we will work to address the issue.

  • We strongly discourage the use of Northstar assessments to screen job applicants. The Northstar assessments are designed to support training and instruction. Many employers have found success using Northstar to identify training needs of current employees, and some job applicants choose to use Northstar assessment certificates to demonstrate proficiency in digital literacy skills.

  • There is not a Northstar keyboarding module. Individuals can complete a typing test at http://www.typingtest.com/

    There are also keyboarding instruction and practice resources available at these sites:

  • Yes! Northstar offers several resources for remote teaching and proctoring. Please see our guide for more information.

  • Our Microsoft Office assessments and resources are based on features that are common throughout many iterations of Office Software. We do not aim to replicate a specific edition of Microsoft Office. Additionally, we highly encourage sites to teach digital resiliency, or the ability to engage in similar tasks across different platforms. Finally, please be advised our resources are not geared toward the online versions of Microsoft Products.

  • Currently, most Northstar assessments and modules are not optimized for use on smartphones or tablets. The Northstar Digital Literacy Standards were first developed to support learners building skills on computers.


    We are making progress to improve mobile compatibility for our existing content, and we have released mobile compatible versions of the Internet Basics online learning module and the Accessing Telehealth Appointments assessment and online learning module. Going forward, any new topics from Northstar will include mobile compatibility.


    That said, some sites have reported some success using phones or tablets, but several questions require actions that are only possible on desktop or laptop computers, such as dragging and dropping.

    • Northstar is more likely to display appropriately on larger screens, so tablets are preferred.
    • On most mobile devices, you can perform a right click by holding down on a link for several seconds.
    • Similarly, some of the assessments will correctly interpret a double tap as a double click.
    • Many units of the curriculum can easily be adapted for tablet/smartphone use. For example, most of the skills covered in Using Email and Internet Basics apply to mobile email and internet use.
  • Please download our W-9 from https://digitalliteracyassessment.org/w-9.

Assessments

  • 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.

  • The Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment is a resource intended to support instruction. We consider it to be a way to see what people already know and to identify areas in which additional skills are needed. When a learner takes the test multiple times in order to remember the correct answer, their test results do not represent demonstrable skills; rather, their test results only show their ability to guess at/remember the correct answer.


    As a result, at subscribing locations, learners are limited to taking the assessment twice per day. This is to allow instructors to use the assessments as a before and after learning assessment tool. However, we strongly discourage allowing learners to take multiple attempts without including instruction between attempts.


    On our publicly available homepage, learners are limited to taking the 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 support@digitalliteracyassessment.org 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:

    • www.digitalliteracyassessment.org
    • admin.digitalliteracyassessment.org
    • assessment.digitalliteracyassessment.org
    • assessment-legacy.digitalliteracyassessment.org
    • assets.digitalliteracyassessment.org
    • fonts.googleapis.com
    • www.google-analytics.com
    • www.googletagmanager.com
    • www.google.com/recaptcha/
    • www.gstatic.com/recaptcha/
    • fonts.gstatic.com
    • maps.gstatic.com
    • maps.googleapis.com
    • cdn.trackjs.com
    • usage.trackjs.com
  • 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.

  • Our Microsoft Office assessments and resources are based on features that are common throughout many iterations of Office Software. We do not aim to replicate a specific edition of Microsoft Office. We do periodically evaluate our assessments to see if there are any questions that need to be updated, but if you notice a specific issue with an assessment question, NSOL module, or curriculum lesson please let us know with specific details (such as the question number) and we will review them. Additionally, we highly encourage sites to teach digital resiliency, or the ability to engage in similar tasks across different platforms. Finally, please be advised our resources are not geared toward the online versions of Microsoft Products.

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.

  • 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 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! Northstar offers several resources for remote teaching and proctoring. Please see our guide for more information.

  • Each unit of curriculum has around 7-10 lessons, except Career Search Skills, which includes 15 lesson plans to address the extensive standards for that topic. We project that each curriculum lesson should take around 2 hours, although this can vary depending on the size of the classroom and the ability level of the learners.

Northstar Online Learning

  • Northstar Online Learning (NSOL) is an online learning platform that features original content learners can access independently. Each topic includes explanations, demonstration videos, and interactive practice. NSOL can be used either by learners working independently, or as a resource to support in-class instruction or one-on-one tutoring. Northstar locations can make learner accounts which track NSOL work and assessments completed by the learners. When learners complete an assessment while logged into their accounts, they are automatically directed to the NSOL content corresponding to what they need to learn.

  • We currently have NSOL practice and instruction available for all of our units, except for Supporting K-12 Distance Learning and Windows 11. Our plan is to develop self-directed online learning practice lessons for all of the assessment topics we provide.

  • On average, it takes around 90 minutes to finish a topic, although this can vary widely, depending on the experience and ability of the learner.

  • Northstar locations can make NSOL accounts. Click here to find a Northstar location near you.

  • To add new learners to NSOL, log into the Admin Portal. Click the Learners tab at the top and then click Invite New Learner, where you can add a learner’s name and email address to send them an email invitation.

  • To link assessment results to learner accounts, log into the Admin Portal, click Assessments at the top, and then find and click on the learner's assessment result. On the assessment result page, click "Edit" next to their name, then click on the check box for "Associate with an existing learner account", and then search for their name.

  • Northstar Online Learning does not include the time that learners spend taking assessments. For proctored assessments, these assessments are meant to be monitored by staff members and class time recorded in that fashion. Even if students are taking proctored assessments virtually via video conferencing, a teacher should be monitoring the students and taking attendance as if it were in person.

    For unproctored assessments, we are not counting that as learning time since the goal of the assessments is to assess and not to teach. Generally speaking, we discourage sites from asking their learners to take unproctored assessments repeatedly, since that encourages memorization of the test, rather than learning. Additionally, the NSOL modules already provide learners with plenty of questions in both the 'Try It' and 'Learning Check' sections of the modules.

    However, it is possible to view the amount of time a learner spent on an assessment in the admin portal. Along with the test taker's missed questions, the assessments results page includes the duration of time.

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.