Almost 72 percent of schools reported expected or high growth on the state's annual ABCs of Education report, up from 54.3 percent a year ago.
Forty-five schools – less than 2 percent of North Carolina schools – fell well below the state standards and have been classified as low-performing. About a third of those schools also fell into the category last year.
Powell Elementary in Raleigh was one of the schools that posted better scores this year. Test results last year showed Powell Elementary plummeting in math and writing.
“We took those results to heart,” said Principal Jimmy Sposato. “It was offensive to some degree to us as professionals.”
Some schools blamed lower test scores on changes to tests in math.
"You can rationalize a lot of things away, but the reason we are here and the reason this building is here is for student learning," Sposato said.
To post better scores, the school took a similar approach to what Ann Quarles taught in her class Thursday.
“When horses race, they put blinders on so they won't get distracted by anything,” she told the class.
That approach worked for the school, and test scores were up overall about 10 percent. Math was up about 17 percent, and writing was up more than 20 percent.
The school's strategy tested students throughout the year, instead of just waiting until the end of grade test.
About 45 percent of North Carolina schools met Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, this year, and state education officials blame that on the all-or-nothing scoring on the tests.
AYP is measured in each school in subcategories that include race, income and disability. If a school fails one of those targets, it fails AYP.
State officials noted that 62 percent of schools met 90 percent of their subcategory targets, and they have met with federal representatives to express their displeasure with the measurement system.
Graduation rates are also up slightly statewide, officials said.
The test results are tied to bonuses for teachers and principals. The state will cut $103 million in bonus checks this year, up about $30 million from last year.