Madeleine Marie Polland, 56, a former teacher who was active in behalf of handicapped and retarded children, died of cancer Friday at George Washington University Hospital.

Mrs. Polland, who lived in Chevy Chase, was a vice chairman of the Camp Hill Movement, a group that seeks to improve educational opportunities for the handicapped. She also did extensive work with similar groups.

Born in Paris, France, she was a graduate of the Sorbonne. She was a school teacher in France and a member of the French underground during World War ii. She also helped run a recreation center for American troops during World War ii. She came to the United States in 1946 on a scholarship to Wellesley College in Wellesley Mass., and moved to Washington shortly thereafter. She taught at the Sidwell Friends and Holton - Arms school here in the late 1940's and early 1950's.

Later, she was active in the FLESS program, which helped start foreign-language programs at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.

Survivors include her husband, David M. Polland, whom she married in 1952, of the home, and two children, Jacqueline, of Washington, and Marc, of the home.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the Madeleine PollandFund for Handicapped and Retarded Children, c/o American Security Bank, Washington.