The number of Beaufort County students who passed four key high school exams topped state averages in two subject areas but fell below the state average in the other two.
The school district also had mixed results compared with its 2012 pass rates for end-of-course exams.
The percentage of students who passed the exams rose in two subjects -- English and U.S. history -- compared with last year's results. However, pass rates in biology and algebra slipped slightly.
The percentage of students passing the English and biology exams rose above the statewide percentages, but the district saw lower pass rates in the algebra and U.S. history exams.
"While we saw mixed results from 2012 to 2013, our five-year trend data show improvements across the board," superintendent Jeffrey Moss said. "We're making progress, but we've got a long way to go if we're going to be competitive with other areas of the state."
End-of-course exams are given in the final few weeks of the school year to students who have taken the four courses. Their scores account for 20 percent of their grade in the classes.
The district had its highest pass rates on the biology exam, which has only been given for three years, with 80.7 percent of the 1,261 students who took the exam passing. This is about 1,017 students who earned either an "A," "B" or "C" on the exam.
This is 2.5 percentage points higher than the state percentage of 78.2 percent, but it also is about 2 percentage points lower than the 83 percent of students who passed the exam last year.
Pass rates in the district also dropped on the algebra exam by about one point from last year to this year.
District academic improvement officer Melissa Sheppard said it's important to not just look at the data from one year to the next.
The number of students passing the exams improved on all four tests by at least 10 percentage points during the past several years. The biggest gain was in U.S. history, which improved from 37.9 percent of students passing in 2009, the first year of history testing, to 60.4 percent in 2013.
"If we were just to home in on one year at a time, that wouldn't make much sense," Sheppard said. "We want to look over time because that shows sustainabilty, and that's what we're after in the district."
All five high school principals echoed that thought -- each said they are pleased with the results but acknowledge the need for improvement.
Battery Creek High School saw the biggest gains on all four exams in recent years. Principal Ed Burnes said the school's teachers have worked to improve the rigor of the classes and also implemented intense reviews before the exams -- initiatives they plan to continue this year.
Amanda O'Nan, principal at Hilton Head Island High School -- which topped state averages in all tests except algebra -- said these tests help hold both students and their teachers accountable for their performance.
"I think (the tests) are a good indicator for a school to hold a mirror up and look at yourself," O'Nan said.
Bonnie Almond, district director of secondary academics, said the district is putting tutorials together for school staff. The schools also will submit plans on goals for the end-of-course exams and how they plan to reach them.
"Overall we're pleased, but we had pockets of great success and pockets we need to analyze and see where we need to address," Almond said. "At the district level, we need to figure out where our needs are and where to put the resources we have."
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.