Using Northstar?

Hello English Language Acquisition Friends,

I also posted this in the Integrating Technology group, but I got a good suggestion to post here too. My name is Sara, and I work both as an instructor as well as in a novel position as a "digital literacy fellow" at an adult education non-profit. In my role as the digital literacy fellow, I've been tasked to identify and select a tool for assessing students' digital literacy as they go through orientation at our organization. We serve folks looking to improve their English language skills as well as folks seeking a high school equivalency. So far, the most promising assessment I have found so far is Northstar. I've had teachers at my organization take it and give me feedback on how they feel their students would do with it.

While it seems really promising and the best I've seen, we are concerned with how students with lower English proficiency might be able to access the test. We're worried that the language involved with the test might be a barrier to accurately assessing what tech literacy folks genuinely already have because of unfamiliarity with the vocab and sentence structure of some of the questions and instructions. 

Have any of you used Northstar at your agencies to assess students, particularly English language learners? What did you think? 

Have you used it with low English proficiency students? Beginners and folks with low print literacy? 

Are you aware of any digital literacy assessments for students with very limited English? 

How do you assess digital literacy in students with very limited English? 

Any and all thoughts and comments are helpful and most welcome!


Thanks for all you do for your students, 



Have you seen this resource?

It is text and video-based (with on-screen CC). The only downside is the free version does not let students create an account to save their progress. However, I started a video, navigated away from it briefly, and when I came back, I was asked if I wanted to resume where I had left off. I even closed my browser tab and was allowed to resume, but I don't know if this works if the computer is logged out/shut down. There are worksheets the teacher or student can print for homework, and there are certificates of completion for the different units.


Thanks for this, Liz! I'll check this out. It seems like no matter what, based on what I am gathering, we'd have to work with beginner level students to at least pre-teach vocab, so we could find out more about what digital literacy knowledge they already have.

Posted by Leah Hauge in the Integrating Technology group. Copied here, in the ELA group, by David J. Rosen, Moderator of Integrating Technology.


Hi Sara,

Thank you for your questions. I’m the Curriculum Coordinator for Northstar and work with our team to develop learning resources to support adult learners working towards digital literacy. 

The learning resources (Northstar Online Learning and the Northstar Curricula) were written to support adult learners at a mid-level English reading comprehension ability or higher; this reading ability is also required to complete the assessments. The curriculum will support adult English language learners at an intermediate level, CASAS reading level 211 or higher.  

ESL teachers have successfully adapted the curriculum by scaffolding the materials down to beginning/high beginning ESL level learners. 

For each lesson plan, digital literacy vocabulary words are identified to help teachers support learners' understanding of the skill being taught. Planning to pre-teach that vocabulary is one way to support learners at a lower level. Another idea is to break the lessons into parts, providing a slower pace of instruction. I would also recommend having learners complete the corresponding Northstar Online Learning modules to reinforce concepts and vocabulary. 

Scaffolded instruction of the standards for beginning ESL learners may help them show their learning on the Northstar Assessments. We also recommend giving learners the assessment as a pre-test prior to instruction and then again as a post-test after instruction. In general, teachers have found that beginning level ESL learners and higher show gains on the assessment after instruction. 

Each Northstar Assessment also features audio and text of all questions, which can be helpful for some learners. 

For learners with low print literacy I would recommend ESL classes first, which I imagine will also be building digital literacy skills due to remote learning. In these classes, learners could continue to build their language skills before taking Northstar classes and assessments.  

Finally, in the Northstar Admin portal under “Other Resources” Northstar has developed some screeners provided as a way to determine whether low-literacy individuals have a 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 overly frustrated by attempting to complete assessments far above their skill and/or language level. There are two versions of the screener, 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.

Please reach out if we can answer any more questions. Thank you! -Leah


Thank you, Sara, for bringing this important issue to our community. And thanks to Liz and David for weighing in. I wonder if anyone knows of literacy assessment resources in languages besides English. Of course, there are learners who come to us who may be quite proficient with technology who are at the same time beginners in English. Would assessment tools in other languages be helpful?

Take care, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP


My pleasure bringing it up! I'm excited about what possibilities there are for assessment around this, and I definitely wouldn't discount using dig lit assessments in other languages/students' first languages. Is anyone aware of digital literacy assessments in other languages too? The only catch would be how many different ones we'd need at our agency. Off the top of my head, big ones would be: Dari, Pashto, Mandarin, Spanish, Arabic, Nepali, Russian, Uzbek, French, Swahili, and, well, others too.