Montgomery County public schools' march toward a new grading system for its 141,000 students will move forward, but at a slightly slower pace.

Instead of requiring all high schools to start the new grading program this fall, the school board yesterday voted to give teachers more time to work out the intricacies by requiring that they evaluate students based only on how well they meet specific academic standards. Participation and effort, which were to be reported as a separate mark, will not be graded as originally planned.

"We're glad for the time to slow down," said Cindy Kerr, president of the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations. The group has expressed concerns about the grading policy since it was approved in 2003.

The board also approved guidelines for when high school and middle school students would be allowed to retake tests or rewrite papers. The issue of reassessment had been one of the chief concerns among parents and students. Students will now have one opportunity to retake an exam or rewrite a paper in certain instances. The grade they receive -- even if it's lower -- will replace the previous mark. However, final exams, papers or projects cannot be redone.

"We are still working on [grading and reporting] and finding it needs tweaking," said Frieda Lacey, deputy superintendent of schools. "We are determined that we are going to do a good job."

The system tested the revamped grading system this fall at two high schools, Seneca Valley and Walter Johnson, but educators soon found that there were still many issues that needed to be worked through. Implementation at the middle and elementary school levels was smoother, but educators said there are still issues to be dealt with at those levels, too.

This summer, parents can expect to receive mailings about the changes.

The school system will also publish a brochure and distribute bookmarks with grading change information.

The board approved the new grading policy in March 2003; students were to be graded based only on how well they met specific academic standards. Effort, participation and extra credit could no longer be used to boost grades, but would be reflected in a separate mark. The goal was to eliminate inconsistencies in the school system and to make grades a more meaningful reflection of student achievement.

Board members also approved the 2006 budget, which follows the County Council's action, early entrance into kindergarten and the gifted and talented education program. The latter issue came on the heels of an early morning news conference in which a group of parents and activists announced the formation of a coalition that would work to end tracking in Montgomery public schools.

"What we want to do is incorporate the gifted and talented program into what every child gets," said Evie Frankl, the parent of a student at Northwood High School and a member of the newly formed Equity in Education Coalition.

The group includes representatives from the Montgomery County branch of the NAACP, as well as the NAACP's Parent Council, Progressive Maryland, the Montgomery County Education Forum and the African American Parents of Montgomery County.

Members of the group said they are planning a forum in the fall to talk to the broader community about equity issues in the schools.