No one likes to share bad news. In ancient times, the messenger could look forward to losing his head for bringing information someone did not want to hear. This newspaper also does not like to report bad news, but we know the public expects us to be honest regardless of the outcome.

Last week, we shared the statewide news that Georgia ranked last in the nation for the second consecutive year in the ranking of 2002-2003 SAT scores. It was indeed bad news. The psychological impact on the students, parents and teachers in itself is damaging.

Local school systems have been less than forthcoming with their own numbers despite several attempts to get that information for our readers. We can only imagine that they also don't want to share bad news.

And yet it is only through an appraisal of our performance based on accurate data that we can possibly move ahead. It certainly won't help to hide our heads in the sand. We have received some numbers and hope to have a thorough report within a few days.

Rather than simply being embarrassed by low scores locally or statewide, educators need to once again dig in and figure out why we're at the bottom of the list and how we can improve.

Certainly, we're hurt by the high participation rate -- 66 percent of Georgia's students are taking the SAT, and our average score is 984. But other states such as Virginia have 71 percent of its students testing with a score of 1024. And New Jersey has 85 percent with a score of 1016.

If so many students are going to take the test, they must understand the need to be prepared. They must take challenging courses and the PSAT (the preliminary version of the SAT). They cannot simply waltz into this test.

Many school systems are emphasizing this preparedness and also offering specific SAT preparation courses. These also are a good idea, but the foundation for a good education starts much earlier.

Despite the gloomy news we know at this point, a few notes of optimism can be found. Between 1993 and 2003, Georgia increased its SAT scores 35 points, which is 10 points more than the increase nationally. Georgia also has reduced the score gap between white and minority students by a faster rate than on the national level.

Both of these improvements are the result, at least in some part, to the state's greater emphasis on public education in the past 20 years or so. And, of course, that would not have happened without an honest look at how we're doing.

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