The statewide teacher shortage predicted two years ago by Maryland educators has fallen short of the projected severity, according to a report issued this week by the state Department of Education.

Officials predict that over the next three years the cumulative shortage of teachers will be fewer than 700 out of a statewide teacher population of about 36,000. By the 1989-90 school year, 96 percent of the vacancies are expected to be filled.

The degree of the teacher shortage has been recast annually for the past three years, with each year presenting a more optimistic picture.

In 1985 Maryland educators warned that the number of job openings would be nearly three times greater than the number of teachers graduating from Maryland colleges. The state study, which did not take into account teachers from out-of-state and former teachers returning to the profession, predicted that the shortage would reach almost 6,000 by 1987. Last year, after refining their data-collecting methods to reflect the state's aggressive teacher-recruitment program, researchers reduced the predicted shortage to 2,100.

"I'm delighted that our projections last year proved to be overstated," said David W. Hornbeck, state superintendent of schools. "It's one of those backward pieces of good news. Some people will go away from this saying, 'Well, it looks like the teaching shortage is over. In fact, that would be a very premature judgment, both in terms of quantity and in terms of quality."

The vacancies are expected to be skewed to the fields of math, science, trade and industry and more concentrated in Prince George's County and Baltimore, principally because urban areas are difficult to staff and have higher proportions of teachers who have not yet met all certification requirements. Hornbeck said the state also lacks a sufficient number of minority teachers -- a condition that will grow proportionately worse as the number of minority students increases.

"We hope 100 percent of the vacancies are filled, but we want them to be filled with qualified people," said Beverly Corelle, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association.

The reassessment of Maryland's teacher shortage corresponds with an ongoing controversy about the national shortage. Researchers at the National Center for Education Information reported in July that earlier predictions of a nationwide teacher shortage were exaggerated.

The National Education Association, the nation's largest teacher union, had previously charged that school districts camouflage the shortage by filling vacant teaching positions with teachers who are underqualified or trained in other fields.