SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Improved performance by high school students around San Diego County led to major gains in standardized test score results released Monday by the state Department of Education.

The Academic Performance Index for the Sweetwater Union High School District showed the greatest increase among any major district in the region -- up 24 points from last year to 758.

Montgomery High School in Otay Mesa led the way with an 85-point uptick. San Ysidro High School scores were up 64 points from last year, while scores were 50 points better at Castle Park High School in Chula Vista.

"These scores show that student achievement is continuing to move in the right direction in the Sweetwater District," said Arlie Ricasa, president of the Sweetwater school board. "We owe our success to academic reforms that our teachers have put to work throughout the district."

Significant gains in the district, which spans middle schools and high schools from National City to the border, were made by Latino students, English-language learners and economically disadvantaged pupils.

"This is a tremendous achievement when you consider that academic targets are rising every year under No Child Left Behind," Superintendent Jesus Gandara said, in reference to the federal law on school accountability. "Now, more than ever, districts must provide tailored attention to a variety of student groups to ensure academic success."

The state and federal governments judge school performance not only by raw test results, but also in annual improvement in scores.

Other districts around the county showed gains in API scores well into the double-digits, according to Department of Education figures.

Ramona City Unified was up 22 points to 809; San Ysidro Elementary jumped 21 points to 782; San Marcos Unified increased 20 points to 853; and the sprawling San Diego Unified School District climbed 19 points to 785.

Major gains in the SDUSD were scored by Hoover, Lincoln, Mira Mesa, Morse, Scripps Ranch and Serra high schools, and the Kearny High Complex.

Strong API score increases were also shown by the Chula Vista, South Bay Union and Lemon Grove elementary school districts.

The results were split for San Diego Unified, which had 65 percent of its schools meet annual growth targets, compared to 57 percent for the rest of the state. Edison, Encanto and Garfield elementary schools are exiting Program Improvement status, as is Lewis Middle School.

The achievement gap among Latino, economically disadvantaged, English learners and disabled students narrowed, according to the SDUSD.

But even though 39 of the 50 criteria were met, the district itself was unable to make its Adequate Yearly Progress measure and will go into a second year in Program Improvement, alongside all other large urban school districts in California.

Being in Program Improvement requires the SDUSD to identify corrective actions.