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The Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory next month will publish multiple-choice examinations in computer literacy and computer science for four grade levels.

The nonprofit organization originally developed the tests for the U.S. Department of Defense schools. Piloted in 12 cities over the last three years, they are being used by the Defense Department schools for the first time this year.

The Portland-based laboratory has developed a bank of 295 questions keyed to specific classroom objectives. Teachers can tailor the tests to their own curriculum, a laboratory spokesman said.

The computer-literacy tests for 4th, 7th, and 11th graders do not require a full course with computers but rather a level of basic knowledge of the way computers are used in society. The high-school test, which requires the student to demonstrate an ability to program in basic and one other major language, does assume that the student has taken such a course.

An independent organization based at Stanford University has received a $21-million grant to conduct studies of natural and computer languages over the next four years--a project that could affect research on the learning process.

The System Development Foundation's gift to Stanford's Center for the Study of Language and Information will be augmented by gifts and loans of researchers from private companies and the university, center officials said.

Officials of the System Development Foundation said more than 100 scholars will work on the research within two years. They will be experts in philosophy, linguistics, computer science, and logic. High-powered computers, donated by manufacturers, will be available to the center.

The foundation's president is Ralph Tyler, a former teacher, principal, and university researcher.

Notes: A shift in the way schools use computers in the classroom--from computer-based instruction to computing as a "tool" to aid in other academic tasks--may be taking place faster than many educators predicted. According to a consultant for the education foundation of a major computer manufacturer, about 30 percent of the applications for school grants indicate that the schools would use computers for word processing. ... The developer of cobol, an early computer language, has warned computer users to be careful when deciding what information to store on a computer. Captain Grace Hopper of the United States Navy says the determination should depend on the user's time pressures, the number of people affected by the information, the cost of maintaining the information, and the importance of the information to decision making.... Industry experts say the latest machine produced by Commodore Computers indicates a trend toward the manufacturing of hardware with built-in software for specific functions, such as data analysis and word processing.--ce

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