Student scores also showed gains. Statewide, 76.3 percent of those taking the test performed at grade level or above in math, and 72 percent did so in reading. The test - the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment - is given every year to all students in grades three to eight and to 11th graders.
"At one point we had a higher percentage of our students below basic than advanced. That is now ancient history," said acting state Education Secretary Thomas E. Gluck.
"Now, we have a number of grades where 50 percent or more of the students are in the advanced category."
Statewide this year, for all tested grades in math, 48 percent of students scored advanced and 11 percent scored below basic.
To meet targets in math, schools need to have 56 percent of their students performing at grade level; in reading, it's 63 percent.
The federal No Child Left Behind law requires all students to perform at or above grade level by 2014. Dozens of schools statewide are showing students at that level in at least one subject for one grade.
Statewide, more than one of every 10 schools got credit for meeting benchmarks because of statistical calculations called the "growth model." That's 353 schools, or 11.4 percent.
This is the second year that the state used the calculation, which predicts how students will score in one, two, or three years.
A handful of schools statewide posted perfect performances, with 100 percent of their students in one grade at or above grade level in math and reading.
The 19 students in third grade at the Haycock Elementary School in Bucks County's Quakertown Community School District achieved that distinction, as did the 46 students in fourth grade at the Swarthmore-Rutledge School in Delaware County's Wallingford-Swarthmore School District.
Haycock principal Kathleen Winters attributed the school's success to a collaborative effort between teachers and student.
"Students are very involved in their learning and are held accountable," she said. "We all work together."
At the Swarthmore-Rutledge School, principal Gary Davis said that fun plays a big role in student success.
"I really think the secret we have is our teachers make reading fun and involve the kids in so many different ways that they feel good about themselves; they see reading, writing, and speaking as something important that they can do well," he said.
This year for the first time, thousands of special education students in grades four to eight and 11 took a simplified state math test.
Close to 17,000 students - about 16 percent of special education students in the grades that offered the test - took the modified exam.
Philadelphia School District officials announced last month that 158 of the district's 265 schools met state benchmarks and several district schools had posted large gains.
Among elementary schools, Hackett in Kensington posted a 34 percentage point gain in fifth-grade math, pushing its score to 72.9 percent. Drew in West Philadelphia showed a gain of 39.5 percentage points for a total score of 54.5.
In fifth-grade reading, Heston in West Philadelphia posted a gain of 43.2 percentage points for a total of 57.4 percent students reading at grade level. Brown in the Northeast increased its score by 35 points to 73.8.
As is usually the case in Philadelphia, the special-admission magnet high schools, such as Masterman, Central, and the Science Leadership Academy, dominated the list of top city 11th-grade reading and math scores. Masterman and Central were No. 1 and No. 2 in the state in math.
In the city, 35 percent of the schools, including charters, produced double-digit increases in 11th-grade math scores over last year. Five schools had double-digit declines.
For the 11th-grade reading test, in Philadelphia, 16 percent of schools saw scores improve by double digits. Seven schools' scores declined by double digits.
Other big gains were recorded at district charter schools.
Vuong Thuy, chief executive of Multi-Cultural Academy, said he was thrilled that his charter school in North Philadelphia saw a 33-point gain on 11th-grade math scores, from 44 percent to 77 percent at grade level.
Thuy said Multi-Cultural last year had provided more intensive help for students, including small-group instruction and Saturday sessions to boost the performance of students who often arrive in ninth grade with only fourth- or fifth-grade math skills.
At the Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Charter School at Sixth and Poplar Streets, fifth-grade scores rose by 37 points in math, from 48 percent to 85 percent, and 29 points in reading, from 49 percent to 78 percent.
Walter Palmer, the founder and board chairman, said his school has been working for a decade to provide consistency and support for children. In the last year, he said, the school had focused on teacher training.
In Bucks County, last year's juniors at New Hope Solebury High School showed double-digit gains in both reading and math. The math score went from 59 percent to 84 percent; reading went from 68 percent to 90 percent. Assistant Superintendent Joyce Mundy said the district did some soul-searching after the previous year's scores came back "lower than what we were used to seeing."
"It was not an issue of ability, it was an issue of messaging and how the students were approaching the PSSAs, as opposed to the SATs," she said.
"They understand when they take an SAT, where that [score] goes, but the PSSA is more school assessment," she added. So teachers talked with the students about the importance of the test, she said, and "they really got on board."
To look up all scores for all schools, go to
Contact staff writer Dan Hardy at 610-313-8134 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Inquirer staff writers Bonnie L. Cook and Martha Woodall contributed to this article.