Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday that the city's "Writing To Read" program had dramatically improved reading scores for 1,231 first-graders who participated, but he declined to say whether he would recommend expanding the pilot program.
Children in the computer-aided literacy program who took standardized reading tests this spring placed 14 percentile points higher than they did a year ago.
The higher score means that their performance improved in comparison with the national average for first-graders.
"It's really great to be able to announce some good news for our children in the public schools," Mr. Schmoke said. "We think that it has been a very good deal for our children."
Schmoke said he would defer to the school board on whether and how to expand the program, which was implemented at 38 elementary schools under a $2.9 million contract with the International Business Machines Corp.
But he made it clear that he would prefer that the board, which is responsible for setting school policy, expand the program to include older children.
"We intend to make sure our students continue this program," hesaid.
"We want to be able to build on a great start for our first- and second-grade students."
Under the contract, which calls for the city to pay only if certain improvements were achieved in reading scores, IBM provided computers and instructional software for children, and training for teachers in the program, which began in January 1990.
Mr. Schmoke said school officials and IBM have not agreed on howmuch the city owes IBM, but said they were so close to an agreement that they were "quibbling" over a figure.
Educators who favor the program say that children can be intimidated by teachers and often try harder in computerized reading programs because the machines offer praise and other positive signals when children answer correctly and non-judgmental encouragement when they do not.
Gilbert R. Austin, a University of Maryland Baltimore County education researcher hired to monitor the program's implementation, said training and other start-up issues have been handled well. But he said the program's benefits will dissipate unless it is expanded to allow children to continue to use it as they advance to higher grades.
"My greatest concern and the concern of the teachers in the 38 schools where this was implemented is what will follow this," Mr. Austin said.
According to figures provided by the city, two groups of children who took an independent national test in 1990 placed in the 26th percentile among all students taking the test.
When the two groups were tested again, children who had participated in "Writing to Read" scored in the 40th percentile, while those who had not participated in the program scored in the 30th percentile.
Children in the writing program also were slightly more likely to be promoted from the first to the second grade than other children.