The Bellevue School District is considering adding another year of math and science to its high-school graduation requirements, a move that...

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The Bellevue School District is considering adding another year of math and science to its high-school graduation requirements, a move that would put students more in line with what colleges recommend for admission.

Superintendent Mike Riley presented the idea to the School Board yesterday, saying he wanted to hear from the community before pursuing it.

The district currently requires three years of math and two years of science for graduation. But education experts, such as the College Board, a nonprofit association, recommend four years of math and three years of science. The state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board also is considering requiring four years of math to enter the state’s universities.

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If the district approves the changes, Bellevue’s class of 2009 would face graduation requirements among the toughest in the area. Mercer Island, for example, requires only two years of science and two years of math, according to the district’s Web site.

Board member Peter Bentley said he supported the idea, but wondered whether four years of math might scare some struggling students out of school. Other board members agreed that there is widespread anxiety about math, both among students and their parents.

“I would think there will be kids who will quit and say, ‘I’m never going to make it,’ ” Bentley said.

Some students may drop out, Riley acknowledged. But as Bellevue has pushed more students into college-level courses, the district has seen its dropout rate go down to about 7 percent. Riley traced that to stronger support services. Riley said most Bellevue students already are taking the course load he is proposing: 78 percent of graduating seniors last year had completed three years of science, while 66 percent had completed four years of math.

“The kids who get cheated when you don’t require these things are kids whose families are not in the know,” said Ann Oxrieder, district spokeswoman. “The kids who have been told since kindergarten they’re going to college are already taking this curriculum.”

A few years ago, Riley explored another, more-dramatic proposal to change the district’s graduation requirements. Students would have been required to complete two more years of science, one more year of math and an additional half-year of social studies. A college-level course in each of the four core subjects — math, English, social studies and science — also would have been required.

Hundreds of parents, students and teachers railed against that proposal, arguing the district was moving too far, too fast. The district tabled the proposal.

Since his arrival in Bellevue several years ago, Riley has focused on preparing every student for higher education. He sees it as a matter of social justice, pointing to national studies that show the economy depends on workers with college degrees.

Riley has streamlined the district’s curriculum and pushed hard on college-level courses, such as Advanced Placement. More recently, he has made partners of various education experts, from the University of Washington to the College Board, creators of the SAT.

Those experts have picked apart the district’s curriculum for nearly two years, looking for signs of weakness. From that process, Riley said, a clear picture has emerged of what Bellevue students need to succeed beyond high school.

There was particular consensus on the need for more math and science instruction, Riley said. A variety of education experts, from the state’s Partnership for Learning to the national research group Achieve, recommended four years of math and three years of science.

Riley also pointed to Bellevue Community College, where 24 percent of the district’s 2002 graduates enrolled. Nearly one-third of them ended up in remedial math classes, according to district data.

Some board members suggested that the proposal include more instruction in foreign languages. Many colleges recommend at least two years of foreign language for admission. But Riley said his first instinct was to start with math and science.

“I’ve learned from my previous experience,” said Riley, referring to the forum a few years ago. “I’m picking it off in bits, rather than taking it all on at the same time.”

The board will discuss how to invite the community into the discussion at its May 3 meeting.

Cara Solomon: 206-464-2024