Fewer local schools failed to meet federal academic-progress targets, but across New Jersey, performance on standardized tests dropped slightly, state education officials reported yesterday.

In Burlington, Camden and Gloucester Counties, 116 schools fell short on standardized tests under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, according to data released by the state yesterday. That's an improvement over last year when 133 local schools failed to make, in the language of the legislation, "adequate yearly progress."

On the new inadequate progress list were 37 schools in Burlington County, 52 in Camden County and 27 in Gloucester County. Of those schools, 83 were classified as "in need of improvement" because they had failed to make adequate progress for two years or more.

Overall, however, schools in the state saw a dip in performance on standardized tests taken last school year. According to the data released yesterday, 70.8 percent of the 2,210 schools where tests were administered last spring made adequate progress. Last year's data indicated that 73.6 percent of the schools met the standards. That means 645 schools statewide did not meet the targets, compared with 586 last year.

State Education Commissioner Lucille Davy attributed the slip to the harder tests the state introduced last year and higher student proficiency targets.

"We raised the bar considerably," Davy said.

Last spring, children in grades five through eight were given tests that were considered longer and more rigorous than tests administered in previous years.

Last month, the state announced that federal education officials were allowing them to relax their student proficiency-increase targets because of the new tests. If not, the state's progress ranking would have likely been even lower.

Locally, despite some advances in meeting targets, there were quite a few high-challenged schools. Of the 21 schools statewide that have failed to make adequate progress eight years in a row, nearly a quarter are in Camden City.

Schools that repeatedly fail to meet progress targets face a variety of federal sanctions that range from allowing students to transfer to another school or requiring supplemental education service to restructuring schools.

Last school year, state officials allocated additional federal aid to schools that had failed to meet progress standards for five years or more. The aid was to be used for faculty development and training. Increased aid will be given this school year.

The Camden School District, one aid recipient, worked with the Rutgers University Institute for Improving Student Achievement to provide principal training and other enhancements, district spokesman Bart Leff said.

He also said that 12 of Camden's approximately 30 schools hit their progress targets this year, compared with six last year.

The Pemberton School District received aid for Helen Fort Middle School, which has missed its targets for seven years.

Debbie Beideman, Pemberton's director of curriculum, said the district partnered with Rowan University to provide staff development. The district also studied the student achievement gap and this year is introducing enhancements to math and language arts.

This year, Helen Fort increased student performance enough to be recognized as an adequate program, Beideman said.

"Our entire educational community is working to improve achievement and learning outcomes for all students," she said.

Contact staff writer Rita Giordano at 856-779-3841 or rgiordano@phillynews.com.

To view the data or find out about a school, go to http://www.nj.gov/education/news/2008/1219ayp.htm