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Update on an InfoLit Assessment Classic: TRAILS

TRAILS was a very popular information literacy assessment tool designed for pre-college students. While the TRAILS system is no longer available, much of the archived TRAILS testing material can be found on a new OER web site, TRAILS Archive. Carrick Enterprises is pleased to host the site and provide access to this valuable material.

In this post, TRAILS founder Dr. Barbara Schloman describes the TRAILS journey and the new TRAILS Archive.

Reflecting on TRAILS

Photo of Barbara Schloman

Barbara F. Schloman, Ph.D.
TRAILS Founding Member
Emeritus Professor
University Libraries
Kent State University
Kent, Ohio, USA

TRAILS (Tool for Real-Time Assessment of Information Literacy Skills) was an online information literacy assessment site for K-12 that ended its fourteen-year run in June 2019. Over that time, there were 31,000 registered users who administered over 126,000 assessments to nearly 2.5 million students. This is a look back in time on its development and reception by users.

TRAILS was developed by Kent State University Libraries as a project of the Institute for Library and Information Literacy Education (ILILE) at Kent State, funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Studies (IMLS) and the U.S. Department of Education. This initiative fit into the Libraries’ instructional outreach program with area high schools to help prepare students—whether high school seniors or college freshmen--with the necessary information literacy skills to succeed in college.

The vision for TRAILS was to create a standards-based tool for measuring information literacy competencies. Assessments would be delivered through a freely available, Web-based system to maximize use by school librarians. Importantly, TRAILS would not collect any identifying student information, thereby ensuring privacy.

Initial TRAILS development in 2004 centered on measuring high school students’ understanding of basic information literacy concepts. The decision was made to base assessments on ninth grade standards to provide the greatest flexibility for use of the assessments during the high school years. This led to the site being named TRAILS-9. Positive user response and requests for coverage of other grade levels led to eventual expansion to a 3rd, 6th, and 12thgrade versions. 

Content Development

Content development utilized school librarian consultants for all versions. For TRAILS-9, 9th grade standards, specifically AASL’s Information Powerand Ohio’s Academic Content Standards,were reviewed for strands relating to information literacy. Next these were categorized into five measurable information literacy categories that became the basis for all TRAILS assessments. The TRAILS categories (defined here) are: 

  • Develop topic
  • Identify potential sources
  • Develop, use, and revise search strategies
  • Evaluate sources and information
  • Recognize how to use information responsibly, ethically, and legally.

Consultants next determined the priority information literacy competencies within each category and developed the corresponding student learning objectives. With this foundation, items were written and then field-tested by collaborating school librarians and their students. That feedback helped determine if the items were understandable by the students and if the items were measuring what was intended. Assessments with items representing each of the TRAILS categories were then created. TRAILS-9 went live in January 2006 with two 25-item general assessments, plus a 10-item assessment for each of the TRAILS categories.

Additional grant funding made other grade assessments available: TRAILS-6 (fall 2008; two 20-item general assessments), TRAILS-3 (Fall 2010; two 15-item general assessments), and TRAILS-12 (Fall 2010; two 30-item general assessments). Each of these grade levels also offered a 10-item assessment for each TRAILS category. By 2008, AASL Standards for 21st Century Learnerswas used for all item development and revision. Later, all items were also aligned to those from the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

In addition to consultants, TRAILS development was assisted by the strong network of school librarians in Ohio. This included those in OELMA (the Ohio Educational Library Media Association) and INFOhio, the state information network for K-12. Colleagues on the Project SAILS team at Kent State University provided significant support and advice on early TRAILS development. 

System Development

A software consultant designed a robust site that made it possible for a registered user to independently make an account, create class sessions, administer selected assessments, and generate reports. Special features included the capability to:

  • generate random codes to assign to students to allow for individual reports 
  • copy a set of student codes from one session to another to facilitate pre-, post-assessments
  • choose an item delivery order to students as either random (the default) or ordered
  • select a session as “trial” for practice or demonstration purposes


In choosing which assessment to use, librarians could review the items and their related TRAILS category, applicable standards, and TRAILS learning objective. Following assessment administration, three types of reports were available—a class-level report giving the frequency answers selected; a student report providing an individual raw score and percentage of correctly answered; and a more detailed student report with percent correct by category. Online review allowed students to log in with their assigned codes and see their responses during classroom review.

Each fall a national benchmark for student performance on general assessment 1 for the prior school year by grade level was posted. State benchmarks were also shown for states where there were at least 500 U.S. students at grade level who took general assessment 1.

User Feedback

In addition to user comments throughout the year, the TRAILS team sent out a user survey each spring to obtain information and to learn how the tool was being used. Item revision was undertaken during the summer break. Several big projects solicited specific information for needed changes to learning objectives and suggestions on item content.

TRAILS users consistently reported they valued having an objective measure of students’ understanding of information literacy. As a formative assessment, it enabled them to tailor their classroom instruction. Many found it provided a means to breakdown barriers with classroom teachers and open up the possibility for greater collaboration. The measurable results were useful in reports to administrators, as well as for inclusion in personal development plans. 

Users appreciated that TRAILS made pre- and post-testing hassle-free. The assessments were short enough in length to be worked into an instruction plan. The immediacy of obtaining reports was also seen as a plus. Some librarians used TRAILS to create classroom games on information literacy. The tool saw use by some schools to track information literacy skill development of a cohort at the beginning of 9thgrade and then following up again later in the high school years. 

The TRAILS Experience 

Development was made possible by the support received from the Institute for Museum and Library Studies, the U.S. Dept. of Education, the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation, the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) program, and INFOhio. Projects like this require grant funding to get started, followed by institutional commitment and capacity to continue. TRAILS had a strong local team and benefitted greatly from collaboration with school librarians. 


Ongoing changes in information-seeking behavior and in information resources themselves necessitated regular review of information literacy learning objectives and appropriateness of items. This, along with budget and staffing pressures, led to the decision by Kent State in 2019 to end TRAILS as an interactive tool. Fortuitously, colleagues at Carrick Enterprises offered to host TRAILS content. This has made possible the creation of the new TRAILS-Archive site as an open educational resource (OER). At this new site, librarians will find all of the TRAILS assessments as PDF files, plus a searchable database of all TRAILS items. All content is available for use under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The TRAILS team is grateful to all of our users and to those who helped to make TRAILS possible and to Carrick Enterprises for giving TRAILS content a new future.