State Rep. Dan Caulkins (R-Decatur) reports that state taxpayers hardly seems to be getting their money’s worth when it comes to public education.

“To be clear, prior to the pandemic, only one-third of Illinois students performed at grade level,” Caulkins said in his latest legislative update posted to his website. “These performance levels are unacceptable. As a state, total spending on public education approaches $40 billion. For all that money spent, Illinois doesn’t have much to show for it compared to other states.”

According to a recently released Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) report, things have been even worse in 2021, with declines felt across the state with the largest declines coming among English learners, Black, and disabled children.

“Statewide, as ISBE reported in October, 16.6% fewer students met grade-level standards in English language arts in 2021 than in 2019 and 17.8% fewer students met grade-level standards in math,” authorities reported, which also stressed that of the schools that showed increases in student scores, in-person instruction, one-on-one instruction and smaller class sizes were all emphasized.

At the same time, chronic absenteeism increased as COVID-19 lingered. One in five students statewide was reported as chronically absent during the 2020-21 school year.

Illinois Education Association president Kathi Griffin said all those factors and more “illustrate exactly why we did not support the federal government’s requirement to have students take a standardized test during a pandemic.”

Griffin added, “testing students after COVID, which caused many students to learn virtually, created unneeded angst for students who are experiencing the trauma and stress from the pandemic.”

A spokesperson for Chicago Public Schools declined to directly address student test scores, but said the state’s largest school district, “continually strives to provide all students with a well-rounded high-quality education.”

“The District began this school year with an emphasis on supporting students academically as well as socially-emotionally while addressing the ongoing impacts of the pandemic on their educational experience,” officials said in a statement that noted participation rates in state assessments were lower than in a prepandemic year.