For the umpteenth time in the past 20 years or so, the less-than-accurate media have successfully pulled off the test scores caper.

Each year, just when school opens, newspaper, magazine, television and radio commentaries scream about mortifying SAT and ACT score comparisons - usually with Japan.Boards of education furrow their brows; teachers' unions, principals' organizations, superintendents' conclaves and education commissioners disgorge endless reports about what works and what doesn't, and business organizations mate with schools to produce object-oriented education reform.

Johnny still can't read or write, or function with other human beings, or discuss current events. He still thinks Saddam Hussein is a rock group.

Meanwhile, parents/taxpayers/consumers become ever more frustrated with the test-proven incompetence of the public schools, and they would like to send their children to private schools for a better "education" - i.e., better test scores - so the youngsters can get into a good college, get a good job and make lots of money.

There it is! Did you see it?

Parents once again have called for the media's definition of education: test scores.

Give us a break.

First of all, test scores are test scores, and not - definitely not - education. There are good test-takers and bad test-takers. And many of us who don't test well, learn well, and we're well-educated and literate.

Second, as statistics-oriented as we are, Americans may assign too much importance to tests. More precisely, we make them say too much, predict too much. They can't. They're not supposed to. What any test says is really very limited: This particular student, at this time, given his or her specific circumstances, can recount this much information, to this degree. Nothing more.

It can't tell, for instance, how well or poorly a student will perform in college, or medical, law or graduate school. How many brilliant lawyers do we know who had to take the bar exams several times? How many great doctors squeaked through medical school? How many great teachers endured a less-than-stellar college career?

Finally, all you test-score watchers should make up your minds.

Consider a partial list of subjects our communities want us to teach, in addition to, or sometimes in place of, English, science, math and social studies: AIDS and suicide prevention; computer and cultural literacy; racial, religious and cultural tolerance; self-esteem building; parenting skills; problem-solving skills and, of course, sexual skills.

Like the federal budget, no one wants to cut back that list. Nor do any experts I know of propose testing in these, and other, areas and comparing the results with those of the Japanese.

How about one more proposal for education reform?

Take learning and competition equally seriously.