Fewer than half of Hamilton County schools earned "good standing" status under federal benchmarks this year, according to state data released Friday.
And for the first time, the district itself was identified as "high priority," putting the system at risk of sanctions if reading and math scores don't improve.
Many local schools failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress standards set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act because state standards were raised to be more in line with national standards.
"It's an unrealistic expectation right now," said Kirk Kelly, director of testing and accountability for Hamilton County Schools. "We now have true, honest standards. Making a 20-point gain is tough to do in math."
On Friday, Gov. Bill Haslam and state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman told reporters that only about half of Tennessee schools made AYP.
Haslam also said Tennessee is seeking a waiver to use its own revamped education standards to measure schools instead of those mandated by No Child Left Behind.
The federal standards no longer serve the interest of education reform in Tennessee, Haslam said.
The governor said during a teleconference that he once preferred overhauling No Child Left Behind, "but indications out of Washington are that that doesn't seem likely anytime soon."
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has warned that 82 percent of U.S. schools could be labeled failures next year if the federal regulations aren't changed.
In Hamilton County, 13 schools are in "target" status, which means they missed AYP goals this year, and 19 schools are listed as high priority. Last year, 16 schools made that list.
Hamilton County is among several metro school districts, including Memphis, Knox County and Davidson County, that state officials identified as "high priority."
Kelly said public school students improved 4 percentage points in reading and language arts, and 7 percentage points in math proficiency.
Kelly said six schools on the high priority list - Central High School, East Ridge Middle School, Lookout Valley Middle/High School, Rivermont Elementary, Red Bank High School and Soddy-Daisy High School - are on track to get back in good standing next year because they made gains in math and reading scores this year.
Schools have to miss AYP two years in a row to make the high priority school list and then make AYP two years in a row to get off the list.
Still, tests aren't everything and don't necessarily measure the level of education in local schools, one Hamilton County Board of Education member said Friday.
"We just need to be patient and give them time to get things done," said Joe Galloway, who taught for 35 years at Lookout Valley before being elected to the school board last year.
"It's hard for kids to make leaps and bounds on stuff like that. I know we have a lot of dedicated teachers in our system. I really think things will be on the upswing."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.