Despite some gains in recent years, “chronic challenges” remain in improving Louisiana public schools, according to a report issued Tuesday.

One key problem is the fact that roughly 250,000 students are performing below grade level, officials of the Council for a Better Louisiana said in its annual report on the state’s education status.

Barry Erwin, president of the group, said that figure alone points to the need for more education improvements and less infighting.

“It sends a very strong message that we have to enact strong policies to reach these kids,” Erwin said.

Performance by public school students also lags well below those of their peers nationwide, the report says.

While three of four fourth-graders have achieved “basic” in reading on a key state test, only one in five are rated at an equivalent level on the nation’s report card, the CABL review says.

The study also notes that Louisiana got an F for student achievement in a study released earlier this year by Education Week magazine.

The state’s overall grade was a C+, the same as the national average.

CABL’s review is called the Louisiana Report Card on Major Education Initiatives.

The group calls itself a non-partisan, non-profit organization involved in state education, financial and other issues.

CABL noted that 72.3 percent of high school students graduated on time last year and that the number of high school dropouts has shown a sharp drop since 2006.

But ACT results — a test of college readiness — continues a longterm trend of showing most students are ill-prepared to succeed in two- and four-year colleges.

The average ACT score last year was 20.3 out of 36.

The national average is 21.1.

Only 17 percent of students in Louisiana met the benchmarks for college readiness, which means they scored well enough on the ACT to have a 75 percent chance of earning a “C” or better in college courses.

In 2010, one in three college freshman who graduated from a public high school course had to take non-credit remedial courses.

The CABL study also says that:

  • 36 percent of public schools were rated D or F by the state last year.
  • Graduations for four-year colleges continue to rise, and the 67.4 percent rate at LSU in Baton Rouge in 2011 was well ahead of the 54 percent average in southern states.
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree totaled 21.1 percent of the state’s population in 2011 compared to the national average of 28.5 percent.

The report is available at