School districts across the state collectively spend about $323 million a year collecting and reporting student information to the Texas Education Agency.

The problem with the current information gathering system is that it does not allow the tracking of a specific student's information and it in reality provides no service when a student moves from one Texas school district to another.

A recent $10 million grant to the state from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, the largest the Dell family has given the state of Texas, will help bring about some much-needed changes in the state's student data system.

The grant is being used to help pay for a $60 million student-data system that will not only give teachers access to a student's academic, attendance and disciplinary records but also allow them to see how the student has performed on state-mandated testing.

If used as intended, a glimpse at some of that data will alert educators if a student is beginning to have problems before it becomes a crisis situation and help students have a smoother transition into a new school district.

It will also provide useful information on a specific campus to administrators and policymakers.

Implementation of a statewide data collection system will mean a cost savings to the individual school districts once the program is up and running. That is money that cash-strapped school districts can redirect into other programs.

The new data system will not only allow educators to better address the needs of an individual student but will also give Texas a better opportunity to compete for up to $20 million in Race to the Top funds, a $4-billion federal grant program that rewards education innovations.

Austin, Dallas and Houston school districts will be testing the new system next fall. All school districts should have access to in the next five to six years.

If used properly, this new data system could become a major tool in the state's efforts to improve and promote student achievement and help them excel. URL:

San Antonio Express-News