More than 70 percent of the 40,598 elementary school pupils in the D.C. public schools met the required standards in reading or mathematics for midterm promotion, but not all of those were proficient in both areas, school superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie said yesterday.

This year's midterm promotion of 29,522 first- through sixth-graders was an improvement over last year when only about half of the pupils in grades 1 through 3, the only grades in which midterm promotions were in effect at the time, passed.

The increased promotions were made possible, however, only because the school system decided to give "transitional promotions" to some 8,902 students who were proficient in only one area. By last year's standards, those students would not have been considered as passing and this year's results would have been about the same as last.

McKenzie said it was "very encouraging" to have an apparent increase in the number of promotions in the program, which the school system began in grades 1 through 3 in 1980 as a way of rescuing faltering students early in the school year. The program, known as the "Student Progress Plan," was expanded to grades 4 through 6 last fall.

However, school board President David H. Eaton said yesterday, "This is not a point to celebrate. We are moving in the right direction, but we need more resources" to help the slower students reach the standards.

Overall, 20,620 students met the standards in both math and reading, while 11,076 were not proficient in either area.

McKenzie said that all of those who did not meet the standards in both areas will have to attend an extra 1 1/2 hours of school each afternoon in order to bring them up to grade level by the end of the school year in June.

Those children who were working under the Student Progress Plan for the first time (those in grades five and six) were promoted with less frequency, McKenzie said.

The superintendent said she was pleased that the students who toiled under the tougher standards last year, when they were in grades 1 through 3, had a much lower rate of failure this year. She said this is evidence that students are growing accustomed to working under stiffer requirements.

Under the plan, each teacher receives a checklist of skill objectives that each student is required to know at the end of each semester.

For example, a fourth-grader must master 47 reading and 11 math objectives during the first semester with an accuracy of at least 70 percent. The students in that grade are expected to know, among other things, how to construct contractions and possessive words, distinguish the plot and main idea of a story and add a fraction and a whole number, like 1 1/2 plus 2.

The second semester skills build on those taught in the first semester and are progressively more difficult. For example, a fourth grader is expected in the second semester to be able to add 1 1/2 plus 2 1/4. In reading, the student would be required to write an outline of a story, describing such things as mood, analogies, and cause and effect.

Teachers are required to keep a record of each skill the student has mastered, the date and level or mastery. The teachers give the students a series of tests to determine how well they have grasped the skill.

Those students who have failed in either or both of the skill areas will remain in the same classes, but work at a different level and do remedial work after school, according to Janis Cromer, a spokeswoman for the school system.

McKenzie said the school system has recruited 1,000 volunteer tutors to help failing students through Operation Rescue. She said federal Title I funds designed to aid disadvantaged children will be used to pay teachers who work with the students after school.

Many teachers have complained about the amount of paperwork the plan requires and a few have simply refused to keep the required records. Parents have also complained that the checklists and the newly revised four- and five-page report cards contain educational terminology that they do not understand.

McKenzie said her staff and a team of experts from the National Institute of Education are assessing the program to see if students are expected to master too many skills each semester.

The evaluators also will recommend ways of streamlining the paperwork and revising the report cards to give parents a more succinct assessment of their children's school work, she said.