The state education department will spend nearly $48 million over the next three years completing a database that will track students’ test scores, courses and teachers from the beginning of their schooling to the end.

The database system has been hailed by state education officials as a key tool in their reform efforts. It’s intended to help the state use student test scores and grades to judge not only schools and teachers but also the programs that trained the teachers, for example. Education officials also say the system will be instrumental in helping identify students at risk of dropping out of school early on.

The state already tracks some information about students from kindergarten through twelfth grade. The data system launched in the 2006-07 school year with an expected cost of $39.4 million over six years. The system got off to a rocky start, plagued by delays in reporting data.

In a memo to the Board of Regents in advance of their Monday meeting, State Education Department Deputy Commissioner John King argued that the current system, while improved, doesn’t meet the needs of schools or help advance Regents’ policy goals. He continued:

Furthermore, the system was not user-friendly; school officials complained frequently about the infamous electronic “spinning cube” that caused long delays in reporting and verifying data. Data collection was therefore slow, and the Department missed federal deadlines in reporting school accountability and other results.

In the memo, King laid out a brisk timeline for finishing the comprehensive database. The state’s current contract with McGraw-Hill’s GROW Network to help build the system expires in October, and King has said the state intends to bring more of the work back in-house.

Beginning next school year, the state will start to track what courses students took, which teacher taught them and, for high school students, what their final grade in the class was. Also next school year, the education department will begin sharing much more detailed information on students from their primary and secondary grades with the state’s public universities.

In the 2011-12 year, the system will also begin to link students’ records to detailed information about their teachers. That information will include how the teacher was trained and certified, as well as results from the teacher’s evaluation and whether or not the teacher is tenured.

More than half of the funding for the database expansion will come from federal grants. The state is funding the rest: Governor David Paterson has agreed with state legislators to set aside more than $20 million in state capitol funds for the project.

The state is also hoping for an additional $60 million in Race to the Top funds to help build the database. In the Race to the Top application, state education officials described the new system as similar to ARIS, the city’s $81 million data system that launched in 2008.