Montgomery County school superintendent Wilmer S. Cody, lauded earlier in the week for outlining a plan to improve the performance of minority students, said yesterday it is unlikely that the academic gap between black and white students will be eliminated in the near future.

"I am not sure the school system is willing to go to that extent," Cody said of closing completely the performance gap. Cody, who gained a national reputation for raising scores of minority students when he was chief of the Birmingham (Ala.) schools, made his comments during a meeting with the Montgomery County Press Association.

Cody said to accomplish such a goal the school system would have to focus almost exclusively on minority education at the expense of other academic priorities. However, the school system, Cody stressed, could, and is willing to, make substantial gains through intensive remedial help and early encouragement of black and Hispanic students to take more advanced courses.

Cody's hesitation about the possibility of successfully carrying out the school board's goal of eliminating differences in the performance of white, Asian, black and Hispanic students underscores concerns of black leaders about the long-term commitment of the system to minorities.

Leaders of the black community met last night to discuss possible steps, including legal action, to force the school system to change its approach to minorities. Although there has been a modest increase in minority test scores over the last couple of years, some blacks have expressed concern that the Montgomery school system acts as if all its students were white and affluent.

Minorities make up 25.4 percent of the system's 92,517 students, and are growing by about 3 percent a year.

In his remarks yesterday, Cody said the biggest and quickest gains by minorities could be made by offering remedial programs in reading and mathematics, and increasing participation in advanced courses and extracurricular activities. In Birmingham, Cody instituted a plan that placed third and sixth graders who were far behind in a year-long program in which they concentrated solely on math and reading skills.

"This district has not yet pulled out all its stops," Cody said.

On another much-debated political theme, Cody said he would like to see talented teachers receive some form of bonus or "merit pay." School administrators in Montgomery can now compete for $1,000 annual bonuses but no such program is available to classroom teachers.