The State Board of Education revoked a requirement Friday that all freshmen take science amid concerns that limiting course electives in the ninth grade would hurt music and arts programs.

"All this does is increase flexibility," said Scott Bean, state superintendent of public instruction.Students still will have to take two credits of science sometime in high school in order to graduate.

The board voted to "strongly recommend" that the new earth systems course be taught to ninth-graders. The course, specially designed for the age group, and the freshman requirement were approved as part of the 1995 science core curriculum. The requirement was to take effect this fall.

"The purpose of the course was, and is, to assist students with the scientific literacy skills that will help them be more successful as they take biology, physics and chemistry," said Bonnie Morgan, state director of curriculum and instruction.

The course, acclaimed by educators, will remain available to ninth-graders, and many school districts already teach it.

Freshmen in some school districts are allowed two elective credits. If the rule took effect, the opportunities would be limited to one. Many students would use that elective for LDS seminary class, not arts, music teachers feared.

But in many school districts, freshmen already had to take science. Nearly 80 percent of ninth-graders enroll in the subject, Morgan said.

"I worry about kids having choice. But I also worry about kids having the coursework," Morgan said.

Board member Joyce Richards spoke against pulling the requirement.

"I really object to the message we are sending. What we should be doing is increasing the number of science credits" required to graduate, Richards said.

The State Office of Education is studying the number of current course requirements to see if they should be boosted, said Jerry Peterson, associate state superintendent. Data is expected within the next few months.

The board's decision came during National Music in our Schools Month.

In other action Friday:

- The state school board voted to send a letter to lawmakers suggesting reading scores could increase through kindergarten assess-ments.

All kindergarteners' pre-literacy and pre-numeracy skills will be tested the first two weeks of school beginning this fall. While lawmakers passed that law in 1997, they have yet to fund the program. Education officials sought $100,000 during the Legislature, which ended Wednesday.

Data from a pilot test of more than 10,000 kindergarteners indicates the children express themselves well but need more help with differentiating sounds of letters.

- The board adopted an equity document aimed at promoting tolerance and instilling diversity values in schools.

The 12-page "Principles for Equity in Utah's Public Schools" comes after a U.S. Office of Civil Rights investigation into English as a Second Language course deficiencies in Utah schools. It was drafted by the State Office of Education and Coalition of Minority Advisory Councils.