THE Scottish Government is on the horns of a rather difficult data dilemma.

Having announced a return to national standardised testing for literacy and numeracy in 2015 the expectation was the results would be published.

In a major speech in August of that year, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that in the age of freedom of information the idea that you could gather information like that and not publish it “would not be tenable”.

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This view tallied with the Scottish Government’s underlying rationale for the reintroduction of national tests.

The move came after the biennial Scottish Survey of Literacy found standards of reading and writing were falling despite the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence, which was expected to raise standards.

The government wanted to know from councils what was happening at school level, but found that was impossible since the 2003 phasing out of the previous regime of national testing.

Although the majority of Scotland’s local authorities were still using some form of assessments to judge pupils’ progress they were all using different systems.

As an Audit Scotland report from 2014 found, that meant there were no comparable measures available at council or national level on the performance of pupils from P1-S3. The only available information was the judgements teachers make about what curriculum level pupils are performing at, but these judgements are by their nature subjective and can vary widely from school to school.  Hence the new tests.

Unfortunately, there are very significant down sides to the use of standardised tests depending on how they are run and in what way the data is used.

Teaching unions are opposed to traditional forms of testing because the results can become both a measurement of the system and of teacher proficiency even though they relate to a very small area of the curriculum.

As a result, teachers start weighting classroom time towards ensuring pupils perform well in the tests which skews the purpose and focus of education and can actually harm pupils.

By 2016, Ms Sturgeon had decided the raw data at school level would not be made public and announced a compromise under which school-by-school teacher judgments would be published instead.

As the latest row shows, however, this has still not resolved the issue of what happens to the test data which the Scottish Government is now saying it wants to collect and publish in some form.

Having reintroduced national testing it would seem perverse not to look at the resulting data to see what it tells us about how schools are performing.

But publishing both test data and teachers’ professional judgements sets up two measurements of Scottish education which could be confusing to parents and potentially contradictory.