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IBM Experiment Will Bring Computers to the Early Grades

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The International Business Machines Corp.(ibm) is conducting a national test of a computer-based reading- and writing-instruction package by lending 300 of its new line of "Personal" computers to schools and research institutions in several states.

The computers, modified to "talk" through the addition of a circuit board that adds the audio capability, are valued at about $3,000 each, according to an ibm spokesman.

'Writing to Read'

Developed by an independent educational researcher and consultant, John Henry Martin, the "Writing to Read" program is based on the idea that children enter school competent, to some degree, as speakers and listeners. The teaching program is designed to develop these oral-communications skills into reading and writing with the help of a personal computer programmed to guide students through an interactive process involving audio responses from the machine.

Mr. Martin, who has been involved in education for 45 years, was chairman of a national panel on high-school and adolescent education for the former Department of Health, Education and Welfare from 1972-74. His wife, Evelyn Martin, has worked closely with him to develop the program.

The Martins constructed and tested the concept in two Florida schools over a seven-year period.

The new experiment involving the partnership of ibm, to run through the 1982-83 school year, is an attempt to determine whether the program's apparent success can be duplicated in a cross-section of school environments, said the computer corpora-tion's spokesman. Some 10,000 kindergarten and 1st-grade students will participate in the study, designed to include students from a range of racial and economic backgrounds.

Participating local sponsors will include school districts in Florida, North Carolina, Minnesota, and Washington, D.C., and universities in Florida, Vermont, Massachussetts, and California.

The Wake County School District, which encompasses Raleigh, N.C., will be the largest participant, with 3,000 students involved. The District of Columbia, with 1,500 children to be involved, is the second largest.)

Kindergarten and 1st-grade students in public and private schools in Florida showed significant improvement in their reading and writing skills after using the program, according to Mr. Martin.

One group of private-school students in Florida made 17 months' progress in 7
months, according to Joan Gelorino, a researcher at the Nova University School in Ft. Lauderdale.

In the study at the Nova school, a control group achieved "average" results in the same time period, Mr. Martin said.

A group of public-school 1st graders (almost half of whom were black children from low-income families) tested in Stuart, Fla., moved from the 44th percentile on a standardized achievement test administered in September to the 70th percentile on the test the following May, Mr. Martin said.

Programmed Exercises

The system takes advantage of children's familiarity with video games and television by using computers (modified to produce simple speech) with color graphics to take them through a series of programmed exercises.

The program is designed to teach a child to take the phonetic elements of English and combine sounds and letters into words through a self-paced cycle prompted by cues on the monitor and voice instructions.

Participating children will also apply what they have learned to workbooks that parallel the computer program, and at some point are encouraged to begin creative exercises, either manually or with typewriters.

The method allows students to compose and read their own stories much earlier than they could if taught with traditional methods, the program's developer asserts.

Mr. Martin said districts were chosen to participate in the ibm experiment partly to fulfill the statistical requirements of the study, and partly because of "evidence of vigorous and determined educational leadership in the area."

"We didn't open it to national competition," he said. "We invited people to say whether or not they wanted to be applicants."

A spokesman for the District of Columbia Public Schools said district officials became interested in participating as one way of keeping abreast of educational improvements made possible by the rapidly developing new small-computer field.ah

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