The Montgomery County school system remains ineffective and inconsistent in educating the black, Hispanic and Asian youngsters who make up more than one-third of the county's schoolchildren, according to a comprehensive new study.

Minority students in Montgomery continue to face serious academic problems, according to the consultant's study, and the school system's attempts to help them suffer from "inadequate commitment, organization, direction, support and accountability."

The study criticized the school system's program, English for Speakers of Other Languages, which offers classes to 5,600 recent immigrants. The report said the program focuses too much on language lessons and too little on students' adjustment to U.S. culture.

And it concluded that the county's magnet schools -- its main effort at desegregation -- do not work well. Instead of getting minority and white children into the same classroom, "they appear to have resegregated students in much closer quarters," the study found, reiterating recent critiques of magnet schools nationwide.

The report, submitted yesterday to the school system, was written by prominent Yale psychologist Edmund W. Gordon, who was hired by the school board last winter. It represents the first thorough critique of how well Montgomery is educating its growing, increasingly diverse population of minority children, who have been a top school system priority for nearly a decade.

The report cited, without trying to explain, a variety of academic deficiencies among Montgomery's black and Hispanic youngsters.

In particular, it noted that Montgomery's black and Hispanic students still earn low test scores and are placed too often in special education classes. The study said such students remain underrepresented in honors courses, advanced math and science classes, and programs for gifted children.

Black, Hispanic and Asian youngsters -- including many low-income children and recent immigrants -- account for more than 37,000 of the 103,500 students in a school system that historically has been considered a white, middle-class enclave.

Until lately, school officials have been relatively satisfied with their minority education initiatives. But the school board commissioned the $100,000 study after an unprecented drop last year in the achievement test scores of Montgomery's black and Hispanic youngsters -- and a subsequent community outcry.

The 63-page document culminates a nine-month inquiry led by Gordon, who holds an endowed chair at Yale and is a scholar on urban education. Gordon and a team of researchers analyzed patterns of student achievement; visited 11 schools; interviewed educators, parents and students; and met with community organizations representing various ethnic and minority groups.

The researchers also studied the school system's current approaches to improving minority students' education and compared them with what they considered the state of the art.

The report's conclusions, however, are not final. Gordon has scheduled a two-day public hearing for Sept. 21 and 22, and plans to submit a final report later this fall.

Yesterday, School Superintendent Harry Pitt said he was not surprised by the consultant's tone. "We asked for a critical report. Any other kind would be a waste of time," he said. " The purpose is to help us, not to beat us up."

Pitt predicted that the findings "will give us impetus."

Gordon's findings resemble but are not identical to those of a Prince George's County group of religious, business and academic leaders who issued a report last month on the county's black male students. It found that such students were overrepresented in special education classes and among dropouts and student suspensions.

The Fairfax County school system also is preparing to hire an outside consultant to review its minority education programs.

Last winter, when Gordon was appointed, he said he was curious to see how minority students -- underachievers in many U.S. schools -- fared in Montgomery, a school system with a good reputation, relatively plentiful resources and many minority families who are middle class.

If minorities cannot learn well "in a school district as rich in human and material resources as Montgomery County, where can it be done?" the consultant wrote in the conclusion of his report.

Gordon found some things to praise. He cited, for instance, a mentor program and an initiative at 23 of the county's 172 schools to keep more complete data on students.

But through interviews, he said, he found frustration and criticism among educators, parents and students themselves. He quoted anonymously one principal who, like many interviewed, believed the efforts to help minority students are unclear: "There is no plan, no cohesive plan. The {central} administration does a lot of talking, but they do not tell us how to do it."

The consultant also wrote that he found Asian parents, in particular, felt ignored by school officials. The parents said officials imply that their children do not need special help. "The key point is that they do have needs, and they have been quite articulate about those needs with little or no response," the report stated.

Some teachers told interviewers they resented pressures that they sensed to help more minority students pass achievement tests.

The report said black students felt left out in school and in the curriculum, but were afraid to complain. "If I say something about having more black people or history in the class, then I'll be labeled as being too black," the report quoted one male student as saying.

And it said that some Hispanic students believed their school was insensitive to their -- and their parents' -- unfamiliarity with English.