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Capital's new primers: 'Byte, Spot, byte'

When little Albert Kong and Mark Hargraves look up at the walls of their kindergarten class at Thompson Elementary School, their eyes scan more than just the letters of the alphabet, pretty posters, and student drawings. On one entire wall stretches a computer flow chart that outlines the writing and reading curriculum these two classmates are taking with the aid of an IBM microcomputer.

''The program is called 'Writing to Read,' '' says the assistant superintendent for instruction, James T. Guines. ''We have 15 schools and more than 1,500 kindergartners and first-graders piloting it. We're seeing the beginning of the end of one era and the start of another in teaching language concepts.''

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Although it has been only four or five years since the microcomputer first began appearing in classrooms around the country, the nation's capital has become one of the leading large-city school districts in providing computer instruction for its students and computer-based information management for its administrators.

A five-year plan spelling out how the district would meet a computer-literacy requirement for its 91,000-plus students was established by the school board in 1981. In charge of setting up the program was the superintendent, Floretta Dukes McKenzie, considered by many educational observers both inside and outside the district to be a national role model on how to provide the strong leadership needed for such a major undertaking in a city school system.

Part of Washington's plan requires every teacher (there are 5,500 in the district) to be computer literate within five years; makes tenure for all new teachers contingent upon computer literacy; allows the promotion of ninth-graders only if they are computer literate; and requires that every administrator and building principal know how to use the electronic mail and computer management system.

One reason for the D.C. schools' easy acceptance of computers is that the federal government has been ''using them for years,'' says Mr. Guines. ''Because of this, our teachers and parents know how important computers are.''

''From the outset we decided our computer operations should cut across both the instructional and mangagement roles within schools,'' says J. Weldon Greene, director of program development in the D.C. schools.

An electronic mail network, when completed, will enable 189 schools to communicate with one another on screens connected to telephones.

D.C. schools test extensively, with weekly reports going to parents and administrators. Each of the elementary schools will have an electronic test scanner attached to its computer to score tests for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. The results, simultaneously recorded in the central office, will enable administrators to monitor the current progress of all 45,000 K-6 pupils.

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Washington schools also have their own summer computer camp for 600 students and have established a number of advanced scientific and engineering programs centered on sophisticated computer labs in high schools.

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