Louisiana’s public high school graduation rate rose to 70.9 percent this year, which state officials said Monday is nearly three times more than the three previous years combined.

“The new numbers show that our education reforms are working and Louisiana is indeed moving in the right direction,” said Gov. Bobby Jindal, who used the occasion to also tout his candidates for the state’s top school board on Saturday’s primary election ballot.

Jindal said the state’s graduation rate rose to 70.9 percent earlier this year, up from 67.2 percent last year.

Federal officials said last year’s rate made the state 47th in the nation.

The rate rose even though 659 fewer students collected diplomas this year than 2010, according to figures from the state Department of Education.

The class of 2011 began with 48,354 students in 2007 and 34,302 graduated — 70.9 percent, the department stated.

The class of 2010 began with 52,045 students in 2006 and 34,961 graduated — 67.2 percent, the department stated.

Jindal said it is significant that the percentage of students who dropped out over the four-year period was 14.6 percent this year, down from 17 percent last year.

He said reasons for the improvement include:

• Ninth-grade academies, where high schools that have them averaged 4.4 percentage points of growth in graduation rates compared to 2.5 points for those that do not.

• State assistance for 52 “high priority” high schools, including 10 that showed double-digit hikes in their graduation rates.

• More reliance on an anti-dropout program called Jobs for America’s Graduates, which features graduation rates in the mid-90s in parishes where it operates.

Glenny Lee Buquet, of Houma, one of two members of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education who appeared with Jindal, praised the gains but said local school officials need to do more.

Buquet said the state Department of Education can send teams into local school districts and offer advice on improving graduation rates, including how to finance the improvements.

“What we need is for local districts to take advantage of that more and more,” she said.

Jindal has endorsed Buquet’s bid for re-election on Saturday as well Jim Garvey, of Metairie, who is also on the ballot.

Garvey said the improved graduation rate is no surprise to those who have followed public school reforms in recent years.

“Now is not the time to turn our back on those reforms and turn the clock back,” he said.

Garvey faces challengers Sharon W. Hewitt, of Slidell, and Lee Barrios, of Abita Springs, in the District 1 race.

Buquet faces Lottie Polozola Beebe, of Breaux Bridge, in the District 3 contest.

Jindal has endorsed three other BESE contenders, in part to boost chances that the board in January will back his choice for state superintendent of education.

Under a state law, Louisiana’s public school graduation rate is supposed to reach 80 percent by 2014.

Whether that is feasible depends on the passage rate for ninth-graders earlier this year, state officials said.

That figure should be known by next month.

Jindal called the 80 percent target “doable” and also “a very aggressive goal.”

Public school district graduation rates

East Baton Rouge Parish

2010: 59.5 percent

2011: 62.3 percent

Ascension Parish

2010: 75.5 percent

2011: 80.6 percent

Livingston Parish

2010: 74.5 percent

2011: 78 percent

West Baton Rouge Parish

2010: 69.8 percent

2011: 70

Zachary Community School District

2010: 83.5 percent

2011: 92.7 percent

City of Baker School District

2010: 71.3 percent

2011: 70.3 percent

Central Community School District

2010: 85.2 percent

2011: 81 percent

State

2010: 67.2 percent

2011: 70.9 percent

Source: Louisiana Department of Education