Bolstered by a rise in standardized tests scores and better graduation rates, Beaufort County public schools continued a four-year streak of gains on state report cards.
The number of schools rated "excellent" doubled compared to 2011, and eight schools improved their rating.
But the district as a whole held steady with a rating of "average" -- the same rating it had earned since 2010.
Every year, public schools and districts in South Carolina are given one of five ratings by the S.C. Department of Education, according to criteria set by the Education Oversight Committee -- excellent, good, average, below average or at-risk.
The ratings are based on a formula that takes into account scores on state-mandated tests, student-teacher ratios, money spent per student, amount of instructional time and other factors.
Interim superintendent Jackie Rosswurm said this year's results reflect higher scores on the state-mandated tests and an increase in graduation rates at the district's high schools.
"Because the schools have been working so hard on focusing on student achievement, it's wonderful to see the result of that attention to detail," Rosswurm said.
This year, nine schools achieved "excellent" ratings: Hilton Head Island Early Childhood Center, Okatie Elementary, Pritchardville Elementary, Riverview Charter School -- both elementary and middle school grades -- Beaufort High, Bluffton High and Hilton Head Island High schools.
Last school year, only four schools were so ranked.
Eight district schools improved their ratings, some even jumping two categories, including Bluffton High, Beaufort Elementary, Pritchardville Elementary and Beaufort High.
Only one school fell in the ratings -- Coosa Elementary went from "excellent" to "good."
Rosswurm said she was pleased that so many of the schools that had already achieved "good" or "excellent" ratings retained them.
"One of the things you have to be careful of is maintaining that," she said. "When you have a long way to go, it's not unusual to be able to improve. But sometimes it's difficult to maintain."
Two schools remain rated as "below average" -- St. Helena Elementary and Whale Branch Elementary. Rosswurm said the schools had showed improvement within those ratings, but not enough to push them to the next level. Efforts to boost them will continue, she said.
She also said the district is examining the data in the districtwide report card to determine where work can be done to boost it to a "good" rating next year.
"All of this has to do with someone turning on the light and saying, 'We need to focus here,' " she said.