Re-calibrating the North Star: Digital Literacy Assessment 2.0

Tech tips

The Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment is a suite of free online modules that test proficiency with essential digital skills. The assessments were developed by stakeholders from nonprofit community‑based organizations, libraries, state agencies, and Adult Basic Education (ABE) professionals and are now sustained by the Minnesota Literacy Council. The modules are designed so that end-users who lack strong literacy or prior education can still complete them and demonstrate computer skills.

Northstar recently upgraded its website and developed new modules, which the EdTech Center recently field tested nationally through a partnership with the Employment Technology Fund, a social impact fund investing in technology solutions that improve employment opportunity for lower-skilled, lower-income adults in the United States.

Version 2.0 of the Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment was launched in October 2018, and here, we’ll take a look at some of the upgrades.

New design

The first thing you’ll notice is the new design. The public website,, has a more fresh and thoughtful style.


Upgraded assessments

The biggest change in Version 2.0 is an upgrade on all of the assessments, which is still underway. The Northstar Standards have been rewritten to accommodate changes in technology, and the assessments themselves, which previously relied on Captivate and Flash, are now in HTML. This change means two big things:

  1. There’s no longer the hassle of enabling Flash Player to make an assessment load.
  2. It’s now easier for the developers to make updates to the assessments on an ongoing basis. In the previous version, it would have been very time intensive to make even a small change.

Another huge change is to the assessments themselves. Right away, you’ll see the new design, but there were also changes made to the way the assessment works. Based on teacher feedback, there is now the ability for test-takers to go back and change their answer to a question earlier in the assessment, or to skip it and come back to it later.


Version 2.0 Microsoft Word assessment question

Perhaps the most exciting change is that questions can now be answered in multiple ways, which makes the assessments more authentic. For example, a previous question about using “Undo” in Microsoft Word might have specified that the “Undo” button on the Quick Access Toolbar needed to be used, but in version 2.0,  the test taker could use that same button, or use the keyboard command, ctrl + z, to do the same thing.

Proctor process: Codes and passwords and PINs, oh my!

Northstar heard feedback from proctors that giving a proctored assessment was tricky, and made the new process much more streamlined. In V 1.0, proctoring an assessment involved a validation PIN, an admin portal password, and a start code, which was different each time, and had to be entered on a website specifically for proctoring. Whew. In V 2.0, it only involves entering a Location PIN and Proctor PIN, which do not change and are entered on the main public website. You can check out a short video on how to proctor assessments here.


Because of these big changes, there is  new 20-minute proctor training, as well as a suite of short and sweet Youtube videos which answer common Northstar questions. You can go here to see those. There’s also a new manual, housed here, which is much cleaner looking than the previous one, which was in Google Drive. Here’s the link to the old manual, if you’d like to compare the design and processes.  

Admin portal

The admin portal has also been redesigned, with a cleaned-up interface, and easier processes for things like merging certificates, or changing the name on an assessment. There’s also new abilities for administrators, who can now do things like delete proctors, as well as change information about their location. In V 1.0, they’d have needed to email the support desk to do those things, so this is an appealing change for both administrators and the Northstar staff who help out with the support desk, who are all part-timers working on many different aspects of Northstar.

Version 2.0 Admin Portal


Results page

Even the results page got a refreshed look, with the most notable change being that red is no longer used to show skills that need improvement, because of feedback received that red was too disheartening for test-takers to see when they missed questions.

Version 2.0 Results Page


What’s next?

Coming next year, Northstar will release a teacher led curriculum, as well as a Learner Management System. What would you like to see in future versions? Comment your ideas below!

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