For the first time, elementary school students in Fairfax County may soon be able to earn that oft-promised A for effort. Or, more precisely, an O for effort.

After four years of study, school officials have developed a new report card on which teachers would give the county's 60,000 students in the first through sixth grades separate letter grades for achievement and effort in every subject.

Thus, a youngster who works diligently at math but has trouble remembering multiplication tables could receive an S, or "satisfactory," grade because of middling test scores but an O, or "outstanding," mark for effort.

"Parents always want to know, 'Is my kid trying? Was my kid not trying? Is this the best he can do?' " said Assistant Superintendent June Q. Price. "Some kids can get B's without trying. Others try real hard but only get C's. It's really trying to give the parents a real feeling for how much the student is trying."

If approved by the School Board on Jan. 24, the revisions would go into effect in September, and would be the first changes in the elementary school report card in Fairfax since 1976.

Fairfax would be the first major Washington area school district to adopt such a system, although the idea of awarding separate grades for effort and achievement "is definitely the trend" around the country, said Pamela Latt, director of student services in Fairfax.

One of the primary advantages of the new system would be recognizing the hard work of students whose native language is not English, a fast-growing population in Fairfax. The grade card "we had was fair to the students at the time" it was introduced, Latt said, "but the population has changed."

In most school systems, as in Fairfax currently, the student's effort is included in a second section of the report card among work and social skills, such as being courteous to others, using time constructively and exhibiting self-control. But the grade is not broken into specific subjects.

On the revised Fairfax grade card, students would receive an "outstanding," "good," "satisfactory" or "needs improvement" grade on effort in each subject: art, health, oral communications, reading, spelling, written communications, math, music, physical education, science and social studies. For the traditional achievement grade, they would be marked on the same scale or on the A-B-C-D scale with a U for unsatisfactory instead of F, depending on the school and the grade level.

Officials in other area school districts said giving a separate grade for effort in each subject may be more trouble than it's worth. "Teachers filling out 30 or 40 report cards, I'm not sure they want to do two of them," said Catherine M. Burch, chairman of the Prince George's County Board of Education.

In Fairfax, School Board Vice Chairman Laura I. McDowall (Annandale) echoed those concerns, wondering whether the new report card might be "over-much."

"It seems to me if a child is exerting great effort in a subject and is not achieving a commensurate grade, then the problem isn't the progress report," she said. Instead, she suggested, it could be that the child has an undiagnosed learning disability or that the teaching method is ineffective.

For the most part, however, the proposal has been greeted warmly.

During its four years in the making, the revised report card has been tested in 24 of the school system's 129 elementary schools. A survey of 1,303 parents, teachers and administrators in those schools found that 87 percent agreed that the new form is better than the old.

"With the standard report card, it was always difficult to know if there was more you should be doing at home," said Pam Oliver, who has two children at Glen Forest Elementary School in Falls Church. "The new one they've been testing gives you a better idea of how they're doing according to their abilities."

Marla Lacayo-Emery, former PTA president at Lake Anne Elementary School in Reston, said the new card better addresses the differences of her two children.

"I have two kids, one of whom graded strictly on achievement would be shining, the other of whom graded strictly on achievement would not be," she said. "But if you give an effort grade, you'd see what a good kid he is and how hard he works. It's extremely important to recognize the effort that kids are making."

Teachers also were pleased. Maureen Daniels, a sixth-grade teacher and president of the Fairfax Education Association, said students who try hard need to see some reward for their efforts, even if they don't excel on tests. "If a child ends up with C's or D's," she said, "that can be pretty demoralizing."