Computers will be used as learning tools by 1,500 D.C. kindergarten and first-grade pupils under a program sponsored by IBM in conjunction with the Florida-based John Henry Martin Corp.

Youngsters in 15 schools will learn to read, write, spell and type -- all on the specially programmed IBM computers, said D.C. School Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie at a press conference yesterday. McKenzie said the participating schools have not been selected, but that there will be at least one in every ward in the city, and that a cross section of youngsters attending the public schools will be represented.

The District's public schools will participate in a nationwide pilot test of the new IBM instructional program called "Writing to Read." Board of Education member R. David Hall (D-Ward 2) said D.C. public schools were chosen "because of the school system's continuing record of improving academic achievement."

The youngsters will work up to 15 minutes each school day on a computer under intense, individualized instruction. The program is geared to using a child's ability to verbalize a story, record it, listen to a playback and then, sitting at the computer for the 15-minute session, translate this ability into writing and answering simple questions about the subject he has used for his story.

Taken together, all these verbal and physical activities will lead to a much higher degree of development of such skills as speaking, writing, spelling and reasoning than would individualized sessions with each, proponents of the program assert.

The program was developed by educator John Henry Martin and tested in Florida schools for five years, McKenzie said. She said that "students exposed to this program moved from below average reading scores on standardized tests to scores in the 70th and 80th percentiles within seven months of instruction."

A school system spokeswoman said the program assumes that each student enters the school system competent to some degree as a speaker and a listener. With the aid of computers, the student builds upon oral skills by learning to write and read their spoken words and ideas, the spokeswoman said.

According to McKenzie, IBM will provide all the necessary electronic equipment and supplies to be used in establishing the 15 school language laboratories at an estimated cost of several million dollars.

Students will spend an hour and a half a day in these labs, McKenzie said. "The program will emphasize correct speaking and spelling," the superintendent said. "The machines will not let them the students type in words spelled incorrectly."

McKenzie also asserted that the program will serve to make youngsters more "responsible for their [own progress in] learning." But the superintendent emphasized that it would not lessen the responsibility of the teacher to guide the learning youngster, or diminish the instructor's role in making sure the pupil is put on the right learning path and remains there.