A federal judge ordered New York state to stop awarding college scholarships based on Scholastic Aptitude Test scores, saying the widely used exam is unfair to girls.

Lawyers said the ruling was the first in the country to declare that the often criticized SAT tests, the standardized exam used to determine admission at most colleges, discriminates against any group."After a careful review of the evidence, this court concludes that SAT scores capture a student's academic achievement no more than a student's yearbook photograph captures the full range of her experiences in high school," said U.S. District Judge John Walker in Manhattan.

In a 43-page ruling issued Friday, the judge said the tests failed to accurately reflect a student's academic achievement or grasp of high school curriculum.

"The evidence is clear that females score significantly lower than males on the SAT while they perform equally or slightly better than males in high school," Walker said.

The judge said exclusive use of SAT scores to award Empire and Regents scholarships violated the equal protection clause of the federal Constitution and issued a preliminary injunction barring the state from awarding the prestigious grants on that basis.

The ruling represented a victory for the New York Civil Liberties Union, which filed a suit last November on behalf of 10 high school students, the National Organization for Women and the Girl's Clubs of America.

"We had received a lot of complaints" from students, said Robert Levy, senior staff attorney for the NYCLU. He said girls on average scored 60 points lower than boys on combined math and verbal tests, although their grade-point averages were higher.

Levy said the discrepancies are not understood, and he added that the tests were adjusted 10 to 12 years ago, when girls were scoring higher than boys.

Education Department officials could not be reached immediately for comment.