Louisiana's push to improve public high school graduation rates will get an assist from the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, a top state education official said Monday.

The federal law requires that public schools with graduation figures of less than 67 percent craft plans for improvements, said Jessica Baghian, assistant state superintendent for assessments and accountability.

Those classrooms will also be eligible for federal dollars, Baghian said.

"We need to do more to help schools," she said. "We cannot have schools where only two thirds of students walk across the stage each year."

The issue is important because struggling public high schools are having a big impact on state efforts to raise the graduation rate, which has long ranked low nationally.

The latest rate statewide is 77 percent, down from 77.5 percent last year.

The U. S. average was 83.2 percent in 2015, the latest figures available.

The topic came up during a meeting of the Accountability Commission, a 15-member panel that advises the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Baghian and others often note that public schools with low graduation rates, some in the 50s, have high numbers of students from low income families.

A total of more than 11,000 students failed to graduate with their class last year, according to figures compiled by the state Department of Education.

That includes both dropouts and others still working on diploma requirements, though chances drop for those who failed to finish with their class.

While the state's overall graduation rate is 77 percent, the rate for black students is 71.4 percent and 71.2 percent for students from economically disadvantaged families.

Even wider gaps again showed up in the latest LEAP results as well as the number of students who earn high school credentials, such as early college or career credit.

On the latest LEAP results, 45 percent of white students achieved mastery -- Louisiana's revised goal for academic achievement -- compared to 19 percent for black students.

Also, 52 percent of students from rank-and-file homes economically achieved mastery compared to 25 percent of those from low-income families.

"This is a challenge that we take very seriously," Baghian said.

Mastery is the fourth highest of five achievement levels and replaces the previous goal of basic, which is the third level.

A total of 43 percent of seniors from the class of 2016 earned a credential.

However, that drops to 34 percent for students from low-income families and 30 percent for black students.

"We don't always see equal access to those credentials," Baghian said.

The Every Student Succeeds Act required Louisiana and other states to submit education plans to, among other things, aid students from low-income families.

The state plan includes a new formula for calculating public school letter grades.

It was submitted on April 15.

Federal officials in June asked for clarifications.

State officials submitted those on Monday.

The new rules are set to take effect for the 2017-18 school year.

Students in grades three through eight take LEAP, which stands for Louisiana Educational Assessment Program.

Louisiana typically releases its results before other states.

Data on how students here compared with those in six other states and the District of Columbia will be available in the fall.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.