School superintendents across New York are offering letters to students that urge college admissions officers to ignore this year's surprisingly low scores in a statewide physics exam.

"We believe the physics Regents exam grade to be suspect," says the letter obtained today from the state Council of School Superintendents. The group complains the state's scoring method, designed to give more points for correct answers to more difficult questions, was "flawed."

An accompanying letter from the association to its members states: "We further realize that the letter may have the unintended consequence of undermining the credibility of our Regents exams," but the need to protect students outweighed those concerns, it says.

Ten school districts are suing to raise the scores on the test taken by about 40,000 students in June. State Education Commissioner Richard P. Mills has stood by the test as valid.

The letter could help in instances when colleges already favor a student because of other grades and test scores on a transcript, said Barmak Nassirian, executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

But a bad score will drop many students out of contention for admission to large, public universities with many applicants and the most competitive colleges, he said.

"I can't imagine any letter like this will really turn any decision upside down," Nassirian said. "But a letter certainly makes a difference for at least a subset of the most competitive institutions because it gives them pause . . . a sort of stunning negative becomes less egregious."

About 40,000 of the state's brightest students, most of them seniors, take the test each year. A state review found 67 percent of students passed, compared with 88 percent a year ago. The state offered a make-up test in August.