More than 40 percent of Prince George's County high school students failed to earn a C average or better during the spring semester, making them ineligible for extracurricular activities this fall under a controversial six-month-old policy, according to figures released by school officials yesterday.

The numbers reflect a slight increase over the 39.2 percent of students declared ineligible when the Board of Education policy, the first of its kind in the Washington area, took effect in February.

School officials said they are concerned about the continuing high numbers of ineligible students but expect grades to improve as students grow accustomed to the rule.

The ineligibility figures range from 63 percent at Bladensburg High to 33 percent at Eleanor Roosevelt.

Countywide, 40.6 percent, or 14,721 students, are affected.

The figures are based on the spring semester performance of students who were in grades 8 through 11, next year's high school population. The figures were released as educators gear up for major changes in the system this fall -- implementation of a magnet school program and administrative reorganization -- both aimed, at least partially, at improving instruction and student performance.

Prince George's was among the first of many school districts across the country to set minimum standards for participation in extracurricular activities. In Alexandria, athletes must earn a C average beginning this fall.

What the impact of the regulation will be on Prince George's athletic teams and school clubs this fall is unknown, school officials said, because students can redeem their standing in summer school. Summer school enrollment is up from 5,100 students last year to about 6,000 this year.

The rule left a distinct mark on high schools last spring: A junior varsity basketball team at Laurel High was disbanded, and across the county, cheerleaders and band members were taken off their squads and student government officers were unseated.

There are still widely differing assessments of the wisdom and effectiveness of the policy.

"I still think it's a very good [policy]," said Angelo Castelli, chairman of the school board and sponsor of the measure. "I don't see how any student, with a minimum of effort, can't achieve a C average."

But Laurel High School junior Ben Howard, who lost his office as sophomore class president and was kicked off the track team in February because of the rule, was critical, despite an improved grade point average last spring.

"It did more harm than good," said Howard, who raised his grades from below a C average to a B average and was elected junior class president for the upcoming year. "The majority [of students affected by the policy] aren't involved anyway. It is affecting all these people who don't care, who don't come to school."

Among the 14,125 students who had lower than C averages in the winter semester, only 8 percent were participating in extracurricular activities, according to school figures. Those statistics for the spring semester are not available, but school spokesman Brian J. Porter said he expected the numbers were comparable to the previous semester.

The board has heard both support and criticism of the policy, including the argument that the drop-out rate will increase.

Sandra McGraw, whose 16-year-old son Greg was one of eight junior varsity players at Laurel to miss the cutoff, said she supports the rule but sees disadvantages: "For some kids, with that extra little push, they'll try harder so they can play sports. But there are some . . . school is hard for them and they are good at sports. Then they don't want to go to school."

"It's not right," said Mark Fowler, a Frederick Douglass High School wrestler who lost his place on the team in February and is taking history in summer school in hopes of regaining his eligibility for football. "It just made me mad I couldn't wrestle."

Laurel athletic director Mary Phillips disagreed. "It woke a lot of kids up . . . Those kids have worked hard."