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Schools To Test Computerized Spelling Aids

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More than 1,000 hand-held spell-checking computers and electronic dictionaries will be distributed to schools nationwide in coming weeks as part of a test of their usefulness--and marketability--in education.

Franklin Computer Corporation, the leading manufacturer of the microcomputer-based devices, last week began shipping its products to 37 schools as part of a cooperative venture with the National School Boards Association.

The schools were selected from the Technology Leadership Network, a group of some 160 districts affiliated with the nsba's Institute for the Transfer of Technology to Education.

The devices will go to elementary and secondary schools and vocational, adult-education, and special-education programs in 21 states.

The study also will look at the value of the devices in the mainstreaming of learning-disabled students.

"Each school is receiving different products and a different number of products," according to Mindy Savar, a spokesman for the Mt. Holly, N.J., company. The market value of the equipment is estimated at $186,000.

Schools will be allowed to keep the devices without charge after the study period, which is scheduled to last at least until the end of the school year. "We don't want to restrict [the use of the machines], so we haven't set a deadline," Ms. Savar said.

Franklin plans to keep tabs on how the machines are being used.

The donated equipment includes the "Spelling Ace," the company's basic spelling checker, which contains 80,000 words from the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. Another product being distributed is the ''Language Master 3000," which also provides an electronic dictionary, a thesaurus, and a list of 3,300 words that appear on the vocabulary portion of the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

The test project represents an attempt by Franklin to reclaim a portion of the educational-computer market. Founded in 1981, the firm first entered the field as a manufacturer of personal computers designed to be compatible with the products of Apple Computer Inc., the largest producer of microcomputers for precollegiate education.

An extended copyright battle with Apple forced Franklin into bankruptcy proceedings in 1984.

Since introducing what it called the "world's first" hand-held spelling checker in December 1986, the firm has sold more than a million ''Spelling Ace" machines.

But other companies now are competing with Franklin for a share of the market for electronic lexicography. SelecTronics Inc. of Minneapolis has sold half a million "WordFinder" devices in just over a year, according to a spokesman.

And Texas Instruments Inc. of Dallas introduced its "Ready Reference Spell-Checker" last month.--pw

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