Across York County, including in York and Clover schools, a larger share of students passed the 2010 high school exit exam in math and English on their first try than the previous year.
Rock Hill's Northwestern High in particular saw a dramatic increase, according to scores released Thursday. The percentage of Northwestern students who passed both sections leaped nearly 10 percentage points, to 84 percent.
"We're beyond thrilled," Northwestern English teacher Cindy Venables said.
For Rock Hill's high schools, the scores continue an upswing in achievement. They were the only ones in the county to see their average score on the SAT college-readiness exam rise in 2010.
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All seven high schools in the county topped the state's average pass rate on the exit exam.
South Carolina's High School Assessment Program serves two purposes: It tests whether students know enough to earn a diploma, and the federal government crunches the scores to rate schools under the No Child Left Behind law.
Students take the two-part test - one each for English/language arts and math - in the first semester after their freshman year. Students who fail the test take it again.
On average, scores statewide nudged up. Of the 51,785 South Carolina high schoolers who took the tests for the first time last spring, about 79 percent passed, compared with 76 percent the previous year.
Thursday's scores were encouraging for several local schools.
Chester High saw the largest improvement: Nearly 81 percent of students passed both tests on the first try, compared with 68 percent the previous year.
In Fort Mill, Nation Ford High saw a fifth straight year of rising scores. More than 96 percent of students passed both parts on the first attempt.
South Pointe, Fort Mill, Clover, Indian Land and York Comprehensive High also made gains.
While the percentage of Rock Hill High students who passed both sections slipped slightly, students improved in English.
"Our teachers have put a lot of emphasis on the skills needed to take the test, not just academics but also test-taking strategies," Rock Hill High Principal Judy Mobley said.
At Northwestern last spring, Venables and her colleagues Jessica Marshall and Lindsay Lett had a plan to boost achievement.
"It was just a matter of making it a test not that they dreaded, but were confident about," Venables said.
The week before the three test days, teachers held prep drills before and after school. Students who attended were entered in drawings for gift certificates to local restaurants.
The teachers got students to film renditions of popular songs urging them to do their best, which played during the morning announcements.
"Pants on the ground," the "American Idol" song gone viral, became "Scores on the ground" - "Lookin' like a fool with your scores on the ground."
On test days, teachers fed students breakfasts of casserole and muffins, pancakes and bagels with cream cheese. Students got purple and gold leis, and teachers posted signs and wore T-shirts with the slogan "Lei it on the HSAP." They sold shirts to faculty to raise money for a celebration.
"Our goal was to make testing week something to look forward to," Venables said. "We wanted to try and convince these kids that they can do it.
"They came through. They did amazingly well."