MOST OF US are familiar with the National Merit Scholarship Program and the annual selection of its semifinalists. These pupils have scores on the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test that are better than 99.5 percent of the students in their respective states. Much less attention is given to another promising collection of college-bound youths whose PSAT scores are somewhat lower, but are still among the highest in the nation. We refer here to the National Achievement Scholarship Program for outstanding black students and to the Hispanic Scholar Awards Program.

In the District, public school students face some stiff competition. Because of the high percentage of private schools in Washington, its "selection index" score of 201, the lowest local score possible for consideration in the National Merit Scholarship Program, is, by far, the highest in the nation. But 11 black students in the D.C. public schools, using the same formula, had scores that ranged from 176 to 201. That was good enough to earn semifinalist recognition among the most outstanding black students in the nation. A score of 178 was enough to receive National Merit semi-finalist recognition in some states.

They are Juliette Acker, Konyka Dunson, Brigette Lumpkins and Charles Moore, all from Wilson High School; Dana Byrd and Irvin Heard of Banneker High; Meta Jones and Kendall Joyner of Coolidge High; Marc Peters of Ellington; Tadas Vasaitas of Dunbar High; and Nia Phillips of the School Without Walls. Miss Jones was also a National Merit semi-finalist. Dana DeLeon of the Ellington School of the Arts, was a semi-finalist in the Hispanic Scholar Awards Program. All are now eligible for thousands of dollars in single-payment or four-year corporate and college-sponsored scholarships.

All but one of these students participatedin an intensive five-week summer program run by the D.C. schools called Potential National Merit Scholars. Students generally credit the program for reducing anxiety and for raising scores on practice PSAT tests by as much as 30 points.

By the way, another 21 D.C. public school students scored high enough on the PSAT to earn commendation letters, which will be sent to colleges and universities throughout the nation. These students represent the city's best hope for the future, and they deserve much praise.