Nearly 40 percent of Arlington teachers received the highest rating possible under a controversial new four-level evaluation system previously criticized by teachers as overly subjective and based on inappropriate factors.

Results of the evaluations, conducted last spring, showed that 403 teachers, or 39 percent, received the highest, "outstanding," rating while 579 teachers, or 57 percent, received the next-highest rating, "successful."

Twenty-seven teachers, less than 3 percent, were given the rating "needs improvement" while only two teachers were rated "unsuccessful," according to the figures, which were released this week. Teachers were notified of their ratings in June, officials said.

"The final rankings indicate what we argued all along, that Arlington has very good teachers," Marjorie McCreery, executive director of the Arlington Education Association, said yesterday.

But McCreery, whose organization represents most of the county's teachers, said they remain dissatisfied with the new evaluation system and will work to have it amended.

Teachers had testified before the County School Board that the recent ratings were based on such factors as attendance at faculty social affairs and school functions and administrators' "gut" feelings.

"The evaluation process was still very demotivating and demoralizing," McCreery said yesterday.

Previously, Arlington teachers were evaluated by a system under which ratings were either satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

Much of the criticism of the new four-category system has been that the distinction between the "outstanding" and "successful" categories is not clear-cut.

Earlier this year, a task force appointed by the Arlington County Board recommended that the county adopt a merit-pay system that eventually would cover teachers and would take such distinctions into account.

Henry Gardner, personnel director for the school system, said yesterday that the current ratings are not directly linked to teacher pay, but that the ratings may be used when teachers are considered for transfers or promotions to administrative positions.

Teachers ranked "needs improvement" under the new system will be expected to work on areas of weakness targeted in their evaluations, according to Gardner. Teachers ranked "unsatisfactory" could be placed on probation, terminated or have incremental pay based on experience withheld, he said.