A trial inspection of 12 government schools in the capital has rated none as high performing.
However, inspectors said they did not expect any schools to make the top grade at this stage, and many showed positive indicators for the future.
The 12 schools are the first to be evaluated under the new Irtiqaa system. A team from Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) and Tribal, the international inspections organisation, visited each one for a week in March and April.
Schools were judged on pupil achievement, progress and personal development, as well as safety, teaching quality, facilities, resources and competence of management. They were also required to submit a self-assessment.
The inspections are being introduced to make education providers more accountable, but the authority will not publish the grades and reports until all government schools are inspected next year.
Adec said inspectors had found good teaching practice and leadership at many schools, but there were shortcomings in management at some, and urgent attention was needed to develop ways to measure pupils' progress.
Schools were categorised as Band A - High Performing, Band B - Secure and Band C - in need of significant improvement, and none made Band A.
"But then, we are measuring it on an absolute scale and it would be unrealistic to have them in Band A right at the start," said Paul Andrews, an inspection and monitoring division manager.
"The schools are very young and are on their early stages of the improvement journey. They wouldn't be in Band A at this stage but by many standards there are positive indicators for the future."
Schools participating in the trial ranged from pre-primary to Cycle 3 (Years 10-12). The curriculum and teaching methods in pre-primary and Cycle 1 (Years 1-5) were overhauled by Adec in 2010 to focus more on a bilingual and modern education model. Inspectors found mixed results in these schools, though a trilingual education system at one primary school, which was teaching Mandarin along with English and Arabic, was singled out for praise.
Inspectors said some school principals had clear vision and well established routines to ensure pupils enjoyed learning, but they identified several areas where schools needed to improve.
"There needs to be a clear management structure in order to be effective," said Mr Andrews.
On measuring pupils' progress, the inspectors said: "Their attainment of entry and end-of-stage tests are essential in order to provide points of reference in their progress."
Mr Andrews said schools needed to share their best practices and develop external partnerships.
Mazen Ibrahim, an English teacher at Al Suqoor boys school, which was one of those inspected, said it was praised for its safety measures and for building pupils' personalities, but was asked to use more technology and make classes more interactive.
Dr Mugheer Khamis Al Khaili, director general of Adec, said the introduction of inspections meant schools would have to work hard to raise standards. "Earlier there were no criteria for them to measure and achieve," he said. "But this should serve as a guide for them."
He said because such evaluations were a new concept for government schools it would not be fair to make the results public at this stage. "We want to give them an opportunity to improve."
Maryam Saqer, Adec's inspection and monitoring division manager, said the council would continue to develop its evaluation system until 2017. "And each year, along with the general criteria, we will emphasise one particular element. Like health and safety in one year and environment initiatives in the next."
Sir Mike Tomlinson, a former UK chief inspector of schools and the principal international consultant for Adec, advised the council to consult schools while developing its programme as well as reviewing its initial teacher training and professional development methods. He also emphasised a need to grant some autonomy to schools.
The grades of private schools will be announced at the end of the next academic year. No date has been set for publishing government school grades.
Adec says it will help to steer struggling schools towards improvement with expert guidance and resources.
The authority is training 19 Emiratis to become inspectors.