At Jefferson Junior High School in Southwest Washington, students receive three hours of classroom homework from teachers and extra homework from school administrators that is graded in the homeroom the next day.

"We let our children know that we expect them to strive for excellence," said Jennifer Gibbs, a Jefferson teacher and curriculum chairwoman.

That kind of no-nonsense approach to education is what helped Jefferson, and 151 other public secondary schools from 37 states and the District earn plaudits as some of the nation's best yesterday by President Reagan in a ceremony outside the White House.

Jefferson and three other Washington area schools--Brookland Junior High in Northeast Washington, T.C. Williams High in Alexandria and George Mason Junior-Senior High in Falls Church--had been rated among the nation's best in July after a search organized by the U.S. Education Department.

Education Secretary Terrel Bell gave 152 principals from the schools red, white and blue flags bearing the slogan "Excellence in Education."

Bell has stated that the objective of the search was not to identify the best schools, but to recognize several who "are unusually effective in meeting the needs of their students."

Maryland officials declined to participate in the program because they thought it discriminated against inner-city schools. Fairfax County schools also did not participate.

Representatives of the federal commission visited 396 schools nominated by local school officials in 42 states and the District and selected those that were honored, based on, among other things, their achievement test scores and drop-out and attendance rates, and whether students were expected to do their best.

Jefferson Junior High, for example, was one of the first D.C. secondary schools to consistently score above the national average in standardized tests. Since 1980, Jefferson's ninth grade test scores have averaged 10.0 in reading and 10.9 in math. The national average for both tests is 9.8. Most of its children are low-income blacks from Southeast and Southwest, but the school has a waiting list of students throughout the city who want to attend.

Jefferson's students are also given eight new vocabulary words each week over the school's public address system and are tested on them every Friday. Each teacher also has a classroom "reading center" of magazines and books for a mandatory 20 minute reading period students take every morning.

Brookland Junior High is part of a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school whose sixth graders have scored an average of six months to a year above the national grade average in standardized tests over the last four years. Janise Mead, a first grade teacher there and the PTA president, said the fact that students are in the same school for nine years is a factor in the school's success.

"If someone in the eighth grade has a disciplinary problem, the teacher can just come down to me and ask what the problem was when I had the student," Mead said.

The other two schools selected come from relatively small urban school districts. T.C. Williams, for example, is Alexandria's only public high school and, as such, benefits because the system can focus all of its resources on it rather than spreading them over several high schools. Williams students enjoy a course selection of 200 classes, three times the course selection of most high schools.

The same is true for George Mason Junior-Senior High, the sprawling, sixth-through-12th-grade school that is Falls Church's only public secondary school. It buys time at the Arlington Career School for its vocational students, while its advanced academic students study two to three hours a night.

"In our international baccalaureate program, the students have to finish a 5,000 word research paper by the 11th day of school," said George Mason guidance director Jesse Millhouse. "We really expect a great deal from our students."