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Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment

The Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment defines, assesses and certifies the basic skills needed to use a computer and the internet in daily life, employment, and higher education. Ten online, self-guided modules assess adults’ ability to perform tasks in three main areas: Essential Computer Skills, Essential Software Skills, and Using Technology in Daily Life. Northstar is a program of the Minnesota Literacy Council.

Key Features

  • Easy to understand assessment modules in three main areas—Essential Computer Skills (Basic Computer Skills, Internet Basics, Using Email, Windows 10, Mac OS X); Essential Software Skills (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint); and Using Technology in Daily Life (Social Media and Information Literacy).
  • Personalized suggestions for remediation are provide to test-takers based on assessment results.
  • Certificates and badges available to verify successful completion of assessments.
  • Modules are ADA Compliant and include visual, text, and audio supports.
  • Testing locations can access detailed reports about all of their end-user activity.

The Northstar website provides information to test takers and test sites.

Test takers can assess a variety of essential computer, software, and practical technology skills.

Test takers receive detailed information on skills mastered and those needing work.

Evidence of Effectiveness

  • In the past six years, Northstar has grown to over 600 paid test locations in all 50 states and seven countries; many networks, such as ABE and community college systems in various states, Goodwill networks, etc. have adopted Northstar at scale after successful pilots. Over 3,000,000 assessments have been completed.
  • National field testing through the Employment Technology Fund in 2018 found Northstar received highly positive feedback from tests locations, which report high levels of satisfaction among test-takers.

What They're Saying

“Basic computer skills are vital for a successful job search and for working in nearly every job. Applicants who hold the Northstar Certificate are able to prove to potential employers that they can comfortably navigate the internet, create documents, and perform business using email. Job seekers with computer skills will find greater opportunities for better jobs with higher pay while the business community benefits from a prepared workforce.”

—Karyn Berg, Workforce Center

“We first started looking at this when some of our participants were dropping out of training programs because they were unable to keep up with the technology demands with the training vendor. We began marketing the assessments and basic computer courses to promote employment success… we have less people dropping out of training programs, and we have good employment performance…”

—The North Central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board, which has administered over 9,600 Northstar assessments.

“I learned a lot of things in this class. It will help me when I go to the GED classes and take the tests, which are online. Technology is always changing, so I really need these skills. I feel more comfortable with computers. I used to call and ask my kids all the time to help me use the computer, but now I’m independent! If you don’t know how to fill out an online application, you need someone to help you, but now I feel like I’m the boss of the computer. Mothers want to be able to check their kids’ school progress, and if you know how to use the computer, it’s easy. You can follow your kids’ school progress online through their gradebook.”

—Student story

Key Tips for Implementation

  • Northstar assessments can be used as pre- and post-tests for students enrolled in computer/digital literacy courses.
  • Northstar assessment results can pinpoint computer skill needs that teachers can focus on in their instruction.
  • Proctored assessments can only be taken at test locations (not on the public site).
  • Coming later in 2019 – Northstar assessment results will align with integrated curriculum resources (now in development).
  • Students who successfully create a proctored assessment at 85% or above receive certificates that can be used with potential employers.

Case Study

Modernizing the Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment to Better Close the Opportunity Gap

cover image of Voxy Campari Report

Click on the report to read the PDF.

The EdTech Center field tested the updated Northstar Assessment with funding from Walmart in partnership with the Employment Technology Fund.

Read the Case Study summary
Other Digital Resources

World Education webinar on how Northstar has been updated based on learnings from field testing.

User Manual with details on all aspects of Northstar use.

Facebook page with news and tips regarding Northstar.

World Education EdTech Center Tech Tips blogpost.

There are over 600 testing sites nationwide and in several foreign countries. Click to find a site.

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