SOME SENIOR high school athletes, their parents, coaches and teachers have received disappointing news. The students have failed to meet the NCAA academic standards necessary to play varsity athletics in their freshman year at college. That is the effect of Proposition 48, the rule that forbids freshman eligibility for student athletes who fail to score at least a 700 on their Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or at least a 15 on the American College Test (ACT). They also must have maintained at least a "C" average in core curriculum subjects.

A lot of people seem to think this is unfair. The tests, some say, are culturally biased against minority students. Some suggest that marginal student athletes won't be as eagerly recruited. We'd like to suggest something different: that the NCAA's test-score standards are so low that they hardly present a barrier to even a minimally functioning student.

A perfect score of 800 on the verbal section and 800 on the math section of the SAT results in a combined score of 1,600, but student athletes must have a combined score of only 700 to meet the NCAA standard. To get a 350 on the verbal part of the SAT requires only 24 correct answers out of 85 questions. To get a 350 on the SAT's math section requires only 11 correct answers out of a total of 60 questions. About 86 percent of the nation's college-bound seniors have combined SAT scores higher than 700. On the ACT, the situation is largely the same. Fifteen points out of a perfect score of 36 on the ACT are needed to meet the NCAA standard. That is the equivalent of only 98 correct answers on the test's 219 English, math, social studies and natural science questions. These are tough standards?

Proposition 48 is valuable whenever it encourages a student athlete to go home after school and study. It's valuable when the parents, teachers and coaches of talented athletes make certain that they receive all of the academic help they need to obtain what is most important -- a useful education at a good college or university. Those who have been the most vocal in their criticism of test-score placements and Proposition 48 would do better to devote their time and interest to tutoring sessions, test-taking skills and career counseling. As standards go, Proposition 48 simply isn't very tough, but it is clearly better than having no standards at all.