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 - Computer Basics, Internet Basics, Email, Windows OS, Mac OS X
  • Essential Software Skills – Word, Excel, PowerPoint
  • Using Technology to Accomplish Tasks - Social Media, Information Literacy.

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 is used by over 1145 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

For Testing Locations

  • The admin portal is used to access site activity, reports, certificate generation, proctor training, etc. Registered admins and proctors receive an email explaining how to log into their admin portal. See our admin portal training videos to learn more about the portal's functionality.

  • In order to keep the assessments widely available at low cost, most processes are automated. Limited staff resources prevent us from providing individualized training, though we have webinars available at regular intervals. There is a wealth of training, reporting, marketing, and other resources available in the admin portal which test sites can access. We do appreciate bug reports, submitted through the "Open a Support Ticket" icon in your admin portal. We will respond to other questions and needs as resources allow.

    1. Use the main site if you do not need access to the assessment data afterward, and do not plan to proctor the assessment.
    2. Use your organization's Location PIN or location-specific assessment-launch URL if you want access to the assessment data afterward. Your location-specific URL can be found in your admin portal.
      • Decide whether you will be awarding a certificate. If not, you DO NOT need to set up the learner using the proctoring process. Just have the test taker enter their name before taking the assessments and this will help you locate their results in your database. It may be helpful for you to get a screenshot of or print their results. You can find a record of these results under Assessments in your admin portal.
      • Use your Proctor PIN if you are awarding certificates. Besides taking the proctor training to learn the proctoring process, you can review our YouTube video on proctoring an assessment.
  • If you are a registered proctor for a testing location, you will be redirected to the proctor training the first time you log in to your admin portal. You should have received an email about how to log into your admin portal.

  • Please watch this YouTube video which demonstrates how to proctor the Northstar assessment.

  • In your admin portal, add them as a proctor to your testing location using the same email address that they are registered under with the other location.

  • 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.

  • We strive to keep our modules current with the most commonly used software versions among our users. Currently our modules emulate Windows 7 and 10, Mac OS X, Word 2010 and 2016, Excel 2010 and 2016, and PowerPoint 2013 and 2016.

  • 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.

  • 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. Another secondary purpose of the assessment is to provide a means by which learners can 'prove' those skills to others, like future employers. In either case, the assessments are tools intended to support instruction. 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. In the long run, this testing strategy will undermine both the efficacy of the certificates awarded and the skill development of the learner. We highly recommend that testing locations refrain from serial testing without instruction in between the test events. Please encourage, provide, facilitate an hour or so of learning per skill area identified as 'needs improvement,' before re-testing. This will ensure the instructional needs of those assessed are met, while helping to maintain the integrity and credibility of the certificate.

  • We discourage use of the assessments with people who have no previous experience using computers. We recommend instead that you use a paper-based screener. These new screeners are provided as a quick and easy way to determine whether low-literacy individuals have the level of computer skills needed to take the Northstar assessments in a meaningful manner. If individuals have very low skills, it is best to provide some instruction prior to having them take the assessments, so they do not become frustrated by attempting to complete assessments far above their skill level. There are two versions of the screener for each module, one for large group screening and one for one-to-one screening. The use of these screeners is not required, but recommended for use with low skills. You can find these screeners on your admin portal.

  • There is not a Northstar keyboarding module. Individuals can complete a typing test at

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

  • No, allowing individuals to change the assessment would invalidate the results and certification.

  • In order to have users' experience of Northstar be successful, certain domain names need to be allowed. For many testing locations, there's no problem with these and they "just work." For some testing 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:

  • Sometimes, you may need to update a test result to change the result to proctored. This can happen if you forget to enter your proctor PIN, or if your student closed the test window and opened a new one without you noticing. Ensure that you and your student followed the proctor and test-taker Codes of Conduct. If the assessment was taken with your Location PIN entered, you can follow the steps in the manual to change that result yourself. The manual is located here: If the assessment was taken without your Location PIN or Proctor PIN entered, you may email us within 30 days at: for help. Please note that if we receive frequent requests to make changes to your records, we may decline, as we have limited staff time and resources. In that case, you should simply retest your student, and ensure you follow the proper procedure.
  • Northstar does not have an answer key for several reasons:

    1. Sharing an answer key to any assessment lessens the validity of assessment results over time. An answer key could give away the answers to many people, including, potentially, test takers.
    2. Northstar encourages instructors to use the standards as they plan instruction, and to avoid "teaching to the test." We believe test takers and learners will benefit from integrated instruction, and the ability to apply an array of skills in real life situations, rather than memorizing how to answer a test.

    If a proctor or admin does not know how to answer a question, you may email us at:

  • No, we do not carry over testing locations' unused assessments. The quota of 3500/year applies each billing year; any overage of the allotted 3500 assessments will be charged a small, additional fee of $30 per 1000 assessments. For example, a testing location that has 5000 total assessments in 1 billing year will accrue $45 in additional fees.

About Badging

  • Digital Badges (or Open Badges) is a recent movement in credentialing. Badges are a way to display and document skills learned both in and out of the classroom. They are often used to demonstrate independent learning and skills mastered in service and volunteering, online learning and computer skills, and job skills or work experience. The Mozilla Foundation has created a way to coordinate and standardize badges, Open Badges. It is a common system for issuing, collecting, and displaying badges earned on multiple instructional websites. Badge issuers, like Northstar, register a learning opportunity, linking it to the online badging system. Once a task is completed, a test-taker is awarded a badge, which is then stored in his or her secure badge backpack, a webpage that serves as a transportable portfolio to be shared with employers or other stakeholders who need to know that person's skills and experience. Northstar integrates with the Badgr badging service to provide an easy-to-use backpack to our users.

  • “Open Badges” is a means by which assessment test takers can keep a permanent, accessible record of assessments they have passed.

    After passing an assessment, a test-taker can click on the Claim Badge button to indicate which email address they'd like to associate their badge with. A badge will be sent to Badgr, and Badgr will send a notification email to the provided email address. If users don't already have a Badgr account prior to claiming the badge, they can simply follow the instructions in Badgr's email to get set up. After that, they can access the record of their Northstar success through Badgr.

  • If you'd like to share a single badge from your Badgr account, please visit Badgr's page on sharing for more information.

    If you'd like to share multiple badges at once (e.g. proctored assessments from Northstar), see Badgr's article on creating a collection for more information.

Northstar Curriculum

  • The Northstar Digital Literacy Curriculum is aligned with the Northstar Standards and supports learners in meeting the standards informing the Northstar Assessments. Each unit of curriculum contains 7-9 two-hour lesson plans. 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 Testing Locations.
  • No, lesson plans are independent of each other. They can be taught in order, or teachers may choose lessons for their class based on desired instruction for specific Northstar Digital Literacy Standards. We recommend teachers use the Northstar assessments as pre-tests to guide instruction.
  • The curriculum is written to support adult learners at a mid-level English reading comprehension ability or higher. The Northstar Digital Literacy Assessments were also written to this reading ability.
  • 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. Access to computers, a projector, and internet are necessary to facilitate the curriculum.

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.