Seven Washington area high school seniors were among 121 students from the nation and its territories who received presidential scholar medallions yesterday from Rosalyn Carter and Health Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr. in the White House Rose Garden.

President Carter who spoke to the students and their families in the Rose Garden before the awards presentation, said the ceremony also served to honor, the late President Lyndon B. Johnson, who created the scholar program 15 years ago as a means of recognizing "the most precious resource of the United States - the brain power of our youth . . ."

None of the three Presidential Scholars who live in the District attend city public schools.

Hilary Anne Nelson was Andrew M. Froomkin are enrolled at Sidwell Friends School, and Bryan H. Fortson attends Georgetown Day School.

The other four Washington are Presidential Scholars live in the maryland and Virginia suburbs and attend public schools. Linda P. Falcao of Silver Spring attend Albert Einstein High School, Karen C. Lee Thorp of McLean goes to Langley High School, Maury A.Peipert of Silver Spring is a student Northwood High School and Daniel W. Smith of Bathesda is a senior at Walt Whitman High School.Charles Fortson, the father of honoree Bryan said he decided against enrolling his children in District public school because they "have not been doing the good job . . ."

William Pressley, chairman of the commission which selected the Presidential Scholars said he noticed that none of the winner's was the Washington Public school student, but noted that 90 percent of the Scholars do attend public schools.

The vast majority came from the public schools," he said, "I was surprised to see that no one from the Washington public schools was selected but on the whole this group is a tribute to the public education system."

The Presidential Scholars are chosen from among 3 million high school students who take national scholastic aptitute tests, Pressly said. A computer picks the 1,200 students who scored highest on these tests. After biographical material on these students is reviewed 600 finalists.

Each of the finalist writes an essay. On the basis of that writing samples and thier personel histories, the scholars are chosen, Press said. The scholars Program are funded by the Gifted and Talented Students section of HEW's Office of Education.

President Carter told the group that in looking over their biographies, he noticed that "90 percent come from stable homes where a mother and father have stayed together and struggle and maintain their marriage vows."

Carter also noted that one of the scholars came to the United States from Korea five years ago and could not then speak English.Another scholars he said is the child of a missionaries to Zambia.

"I'm convinced there are people at my school who work hard as I do," said Daniel Smith of Walt Witman in explaining why he was selected to be a scholar. "But I guess I was chosen because although some parts of school aren't interesting. I find some interesting things to do and supply the impetus for myself to do well."