More than half of city public schools reached the bar set for them by state standardized tests, according to Philadelphia School District data released Thursday.
One hundred fifty-eight of the city's 267 public schools - 59 percent - made "adequate yearly progress" in 2009-10 under the federal No Child Left Behind law, up from 119 the year before.
That's a 33 percent jump and the most schools to meet state goals since 2004, when 160 met standards under the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA).
To underscore the importance of the good news to the historically struggling district, Gov. Rendell and Superintendent Arlene Ackerman will tout the results in a Friday news conference at Lincoln High School.
"We see this as really dramatic gains from our schools," said David Weiner, associate superintendent for academics. "We're seeing gains at schools where we haven't seen gains before."
In a statement, Ackerman said that "Philadelphia's children are the real stars of this success story."
"Following upon the significant gains reported in our PSSA results, the rate of achievement in our schools and in the lives of our students is now accelerating dramatically," she said.
Though 11th graders made big jumps on the state exams, more than half still cannot read or do math on grade level.
Twenty-six of 61 high schools, or 43 percent, made adequate yearly progress. Half the middle schools, 14 of 28, met that goal, as did 118 of 176, or 67 percent, of elementary schools.
Several initiatives key to Imagine 2014, Ackerman's five-year strategic plan - smaller classes in some grades, more counselors, an intense focus on the neediest schools - are the reasons for the district's progress, Weiner said.
"There's not one silver bullet," he said. "It's taking place on multiple levels."
Students in third through eighth grades and 11th grade took the PSSAs in reading and math in the spring. Statewide results have not yet been released.
Overall, 83,141 of the district's 162,662 students attended a school that made the grade.
To make adequate yearly progress, schools had to have 63 percent of students proficient in reading and 56 percent in math. Next school year, those standards will be higher.
Schools also had to meet other criteria for attendance, graduation, and academic performance by subgroups of students based on race, economic status, native language, and special needs.
Officials had earlier announced that, for the first time since Pennsylvania began keeping tabs under No Child Left Behind, more than half the district's students met state standards in reading and math - 57 percent in reading and 51 percent in math.
It was the eighth year running that test scores rose, and more Philadelphia students are on grade level than ever before, Weiner said.
Students at the district's "empowerment" schools - the lowest-performing schools - made significant progress, jumping 5 points in reading to 41 percent and 6 in math to 46 percent. Those schools were given extra support and closer scrutiny by the central office.
More of the empowerment schools met state standards, too. Last school year, 34 percent of empowerment schools - 32 of 95 - hit their state goals. The year before, it was 22 percent, or 19 of 85.
"Our empowerment schools saw some of the greatest percentage gains," Weiner said. "We really think the fruits of our labors are beginning to show in these numbers."
The district has reported fewer truant students at those schools, too.
Even the empowerment schools that did well on the exams will remain on the list of high-needs schools, Weiner said. If their performance remains strong, they will come off the list at the end of the school year, though they would keep some resources, he said.
Not all schools progressed. Weiner said seven schools would join the empowerment ranks by virtue of their relegation to the state's "corrective action II" list, meaning they failed to make the grade for several consecutive years.
He said he hoped this was a tipping point for the district.
"A big leap is great, but we want this not to be a flash in the pan," said Weiner. "We expect this dramatic improvement to continue the following year, and the following."