Superintendent Arlene Ackerman announced the preliminary results of this year's state exams before the School Reform Commission on Wednesday.
"We certainly have a long way to go, but we're moving in the right direction," Ackerman said in an interview later. "It is significant that the majority of our young people are proficient."
Students in third through eighth grade and 11th grade took the exams in reading and math this spring. Statewide results are expected late this summer.
Ackerman also said that the district's "empowerment" schools - the 107 lowest-performing schools, which are given extra support and closer scrutiny by the central office - mostly showed "significant and dramatic" gains in reading and math.
Empowerment schools made greater gains than the district as a whole, jumping six points in math and five points in reading.
Though more than half of the city's 11th graders cannot read or do math on grade level, their scores were up this year. In reading, 45 percent of high school juniors met state standards, up seven points from last year, and 38 percent met the goals in math, up six points.
The superintendent said that the city's results send a clear message to Harrisburg, where legislators are now debating how much funding to allocate to school districts.
"I'm writing a letter saying, 'Thank you, look what we did, continue with the funding,' " Ackerman said.
The district also heard from the Accountability Review Council, an independent national panel created as part of the state's takeover of city schools to evaluate the district's reform efforts.
In a presentation, chair James E. Lyons Sr. said the panel was "heartened by many of the things we see taking place" - namely, greater insistence on accountability for teachers and for providers who contract with the district, and more emphasis on public engagement.
In its annual report, the council called for the district to improve student performance in alternative schools. Officials said that work had already begun.
The commission also adopted a policy that would allow expelled students to petition it for readmission to regular schools. Disciplinary records could also be expunged.
Ackerman also announced that troubled Edison High will get a new principal - Marilyn Perez, currently a regional superintendent, who grew up in the North Philadelphia neighborhood where the school is located.
Edison, which educates a population of primarily poor and Latino students, has long struggled.
Still, Perez said, "I believe that Edison High School can stand for excellence and a great school."
Contact staff writer Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.