Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment: Meeting the Needs of ABE Learners

Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment: Meeting the Needs of ABE Learners

Between 2002 and 2016, the shares of U.S. jobs requiring substantial digital knowledge rose rapidly, mostly due to large changes in the digital content of existing occupations. A new report by the Brookings Institution, examining data for 545 different occupations, describes how lack of digital literacy skills may threaten adult learners:

“In 2002, 56 percent of the jobs studied required low amounts of digital skills. Nearly 40 percent of jobs required medium digital skills and just 5 percent required high digital skills. A lot has changed. By 2016, the share of jobs requiring high digital skills had jumped to 23 percent. The share requiring medium digital skills rose to 48 percent. And in a huge shift, the share of jobs requiring low digital skills fell from 56 to 30 percent.”

Share of jobs in low, medium, and high digital skill occupations
2002 and 2016

The Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment can help teachers assess student skills, and target instruction to the specific needs of individual students. The Northstar Benchmarks provide specific skills needed for each of the ten modules, such as Basic Computer Use, Internet, Word, and Email. These benchmarks have been adopted as core content standards by Minnesota ABE.

When a student completes an assessment, s/he receives a brief report listing the skills mastered and those that still need improvement. These reports can help teachers design instruction to meet specific student needs. If students are later retested, the results can serve as a post-test to quantify student educational gains. †

There are many creative ways the Northstar benchmarks can be taught. For instance, the Word benchmarks can be integrated into a class on writing resumes. The Information Literacy standards can help guide lessons on assessing the accuracy and reliability of printed information read in class. The World Wide Web benchmarks can be used to direct instruction on how to navigate the Internet. PowerPoint standards can inform curricula on designing presentations. Excel skills can be integrated into math lessons. There are many other possibilities.

Northstar is designed to provide flexible assessment of student skills and abilities. Used creativity, assessment results can inform instruction, provide measures of student progress, and help assure ABE professionals that they are addressing a core student need to master digital literacy and basic computer skills. Finally, earning the Northstar Certificate can be empowering for students, who often express pride in this accomplishment.


† Please note Northstar assessment results cannot be used to show NRS gains.

Tom Cytron-Hysom, Consultant MN ABE Distance Learning