Two federal judges have temporarily barred the Education Department from enforcing testing requirements that Congress approved last year in an effort to reduce student loan defaults.

At issue are provisions of the deficit-reduction law enacted in November that require students lacking a high school diploma or the equivalent to pass an independently administered examination to demonstrate their "ability to benefit" from postsecondary study.

A department notice published last month interpreted the new testing requirements as applying to all college and trade school students, even if they do not receive federally guaranteed loans. Schools that did not comply were subject to losing eligibility for federal student aid funds. The new rules were to take effect Tuesday.

But U.S. District Judge George H. Revercomb on Friday issued a temporary order restraining department officials from enforcing the new testing "in any way," pending a Jan. 11 hearing. His order was issued at the request of an Illinois testing company whose products were omitted from a list of 14 tests approved by the department.

The company, E.F. Wonderlic Personnel Test Inc., charged that the department had not followed proper procedures for issuing regulations and had created a list of approved tests without adequate notice.

Yesterday, a second restraining order was issued in San Francisco at the request of the California Community Colleges, a system of 107 campuses that charged that the federal testing mandate conflicts with a state policy of open enrollment. The community colleges also argued that the department's Dec. 19 notice in the Federal Register provided inadequate time for campuses to implement the rules by Jan. 1.

"We simply cannot implement the {rules} that fast," said Leland W. Myers, Washington lobbyist for the California Community Colleges.

In addition, Myers said a California law "says we cannot turn a student away because of a test. They're requiring us to slam shut the 'open door' policy we've had."

William L. Moran, the department's director of student assistance programs, said the budget reconciliation provisions were designed to prevent loan defaults by preventing dropouts. The implementation deadline of Jan. 1, he said, was "a statutory date. The department has no discretion there."

Moran also said the law was "very, very clear" in requiring the independent testing of all students attending a postsecondary school that wanted to receive federal financial aid.

President Bush's 1991 budget request sought such independent testing, but only for students receiving federal student aid who did not have high school-level credentials. Those students are thought to number a few hundred thousand. "This is something they wanted. They sent up language," one congressional staff member said.

Trade school representatives also have complained about the rules, in particular what they see as the overly academic nature of the approved tests. The list includes the Scholastic Aptitude Test, General Education Diploma tests and state college admissions tests.

"Those tests have no relationship to vocational training," said Carol Cataldo, executive director of the National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences. "If I'm going to be a cosmetologist, I probably don't have to read at the same level as somebody who is going into a university course."