Matilda Dunston Elementary School Principal Janice Malone and her faculty don't accept poverty as an excuse for failure.

They are as prescriptive as physicians in figuring out the specific help students need, and they are explicit in teaching everything students need to know, from how to act and how to dress to how to learn.

Malone and her faculty set high expectations, and their roughly 340 children are rising to meet them.

The North Charleston school was one of only nine in the state to earn an “excellent” rating on the state report card among schools where more than 90 percent of its students live in poverty.

That's an improvement from last year, when the school rated “average,” and it's a complete turnaround from 2008, when the school rated “at-risk.”

“Our hard work has paid off,” Malone said. “The challenges still are there ... but everything just came together over the last five years and this was the exclamation point on our hard work.”

Two of the other nine high-poverty schools in the state to receive “excellent” ratings also were in Charleston County — Garrett Academy and Military Magnet.

The state released report card ratings Tuesday for every district and school, and the news generally was good. The five ratings range from a low of “at risk” to a high of “excellent,” and the number of schools and districts receiving an “average” rating or higher increased from last year.

Graduation rates for schools and districts also were released Tuesday, and many saw improvement. The state graduation rate improved 1.3 percentage points to 74.9 percent, which is the highest it has been since 2008.

“The path to prosperity for South Carolina's economy begins, but does not end, with greater numbers of high school graduates,” said state Superintendent of Education Mick Zais.

Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or 937-5546.