Area school officials are criticizing the "bell curve" the Oklahoma Department of Education used in giving schools letter grades.

The Education Department released its new round of school achievement grades on its website Thursday. 

Earlier this week, State Superintendent of Public Education Joy Hofmeister said grades were based on a bell curve, with 5 percent of schools receiving an A and 5 percent receiving an F.

Schools that did not go beyond third grade did not receive overall grades. They include Muskogee Early Childhood Center, Fort Gibson Early Learning Center, Checotah's Marshall Elementary and Wagoner's, Teague and Ellington elementaries.

Three area schools received an A grade: Sadler Arts Academy, Checotah Intermediate Elementary and Warner Elementary.

Alice Robertson Junior High received an F.

Muskogee Superintendent Dr. Jarod Mendenhall said the grading system "is very convoluted and tries to oversimplify what is truly happening in schools every day."

"This distribution model clearly dictates where schools will fall, regardless of their performance levels," Mendenhall said.

With the exception of Sadler, no Muskogee school received higher than a C grade.

"The grades administered to our school sites are a concern, and they will be taken into consideration when identifying the needs for each school," Mendenhall said. "However, these indicators are not a full or complete picture. We have students with specific needs that must be met before we can see improvement in academic achievement. These needs include basic health and safety, social and emotional, and those students who have had traumatic life experiences."

Mendenhall said MPS officials are reviewing instructional practices, materials and programs used in the district.

"We are designing a new instructional model to ensure alignment with the Oklahoma Academic Standards (OAS) so that all teaching and learning is focused on student growth," Mendenhall said, adding the district's Long Range Planning Committee also is looking at academic growth.

MPS also is working with the Oklahoma State School Boards Association for a comprehensive vision for the future.

Hilldale Superintendent Erik Puckett said there might be some "political reasons" for the bell curve grade.

"It will allow a larger number of schools to fall in the median," he said. "Over 50 percent of the schools are going to be C's, 10 to 15 percent are going to be a B or a D."

Puckett said he would not want to grade a student on a bell curve.

"So I can't say I agree with grading a school on a bell curve," he said.

Puckett said Hilldale will use data from the report card to see where schools can improve.

"The biggest part of the report card that is concerning to me and any superintendent you talk to is the academic growth we want to see in our kids, but also the attendance part," he said. "We desperately need for our kids to be in school."

Fort Gibson Superintendent Scott Farmer said he doesn't think the number of A schools, B schools and so on should be limited.

"If you have the merit and earned the grade, you should get the grade," Farmer said.

Letter grades for elementary schools are based on four indicators: Academic achievement, academic growth, English language proficiency and percentage of chronic absenteeism. 

High school letter grades add a grade on how well students are prepared for post-secondary opportunities. 

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