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Before a packed meeting room, Louisiana State Education Superintendent John White, right, finishes presenting a plan to revamp public schools at the BESE meeting Wednesday March 29, 2017, in Baton Rouge, La.. Watching is Assistant Louisiana State Education Superintendent Jessica Baghian, left,

ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO BY BILL FEIG

When it comes to being high on the bad lists, and low on the good lists, we have an all-purpose reply in Louisiana: “Thank God for Mississippi!”

As is obvious, Louisiana continues to struggle in public education. We’re still not very high on the good list.

But people’s perceptions might change a bit if they look at some new rankings that have come out recently.

How about a state that ranks above Mississippi and Alabama, yes, but also Nevada and North Carolina? And that is not by subjective measures, but by a respected and nationally administered test?

A new report from the ACT organization in Iowa said Louisiana is 43rd among the states for its college-readiness score. But that data includes states where only the best students take the test, which is voluntary in most of the country. Obviously, those are a self-selected category of college-bound students. In many states, too, students might opt for the SAT, another college readiness exam.

All that said, here is the good news: Among the 17 states where all students take the ACT, Louisiana ranked 10th and ahead of a number of states. Those include Arkansas, Oklahoma, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi and Nevada.

Not as bad as might be expected, and the result of a slow but steady progression in ACT scores by Louisiana students.

State officials announced that public high school students had a composite score of 19.6, up from 19.5 last year. The ACT rankings list Louisiana's composite as 19.5 because it includes both public and private school students, and relies on the last score.

State officials use only public student results and the best score, which is why the scores differ slightly.

Small score gains add up.

Manifestly, the report is not a cause for a parade. The U.S. average is 21 among the states, including the District of Columbia. In Minnesota, all students take the test and their average is 21.5.

So there is a great deal of work to do.

But as Superintendent John White said, Louisiana is among the top three in the South among the states where the ACT is a universal requirement.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education passed the 100 percent policy in 2012. While it is a specific college-readiness measurement, the mandate was intended to encourage more students to look beyond high school, toward post-secondary education in a community college, or in technical job training.

Scores may fluctuate, but the day-in and day-out work of students and their teachers is showing progress in Louisiana public education.