Here's a test for the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) - try responding to a proposal for change without employing heated rhetoric and emotive, straw-man arguments.

The teaching union is unhappy to learn that testing of primary-school children might be reintroduced. Or rather, that Nicola Sturgeon has not ruled out such a possibility.

Its general secretary Larry Flanagan is also unhappy that he was not consulted about this - but if the First Minister was to send round a memo every time she failed to rule something out, she'd have little time left to run the country.

Tests are bad, says the EIS. They are part of a "failed approach from the past", and they don't improve standards. But who said they did improve standards, or that bringing them back would, in itself, have any impact whatsoever on children's learning?

A test is merely a way of gathering data. The value of the data depends on the design of the test, and the impact of the testing depends on two things: how teachers respond to it, and how policy-makers act (or don't) on what they find out.

When primary school tests were scrapped in 2003, it was amid concern teachers were "teaching to the test". The EIS appears to believe that if tests are reintroduced such an outcome is both inevitable and contrary to the spirit of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), in which the focus is on problem-solving rather than rote learning. But is this so?

It is surely quite difficult to "teach to" a literacy or numeracy test in a manner that does not at the same time boost pupils' writing and arithmetic skills. If this is indeed possible then there is surely something wrong with the test.

Perhaps the concern is that some teachers may revert back to more traditional methods to ensure their pupils grasp basics such as times tables. But to do so would hardly amount to ripping up CfE and returning to the days of Dickens.

It's unhelpful to create a false dichotomy between old and new teaching techniques and to imply that CfE, with its problem-solving focus, is somehow test-proof. If exams were nothing more than memory tests we'd not only have to rethink the new school curriculum but also our entire approach to further and higher education.

The pupils who sat the new Maths Higher last week might have been dismayed to come across frogs and toads in their exam paper, but that doesn't mean the question wasn't a useful problem-solving test. Poring over past papers may be a solid exam revision technique, but real-world challenges often take unexpected forms.

The prime concern of the EIS surely relates to how test results might be used, and how this might affect its members. Might, for example, poor test results be unfairly offered as evidence of failure by a school or an individual teacher? Like any set of statistics, raw test results could be used to tell a range of stories both positive and negative. But a teacher and his/her methods are of course just one of many variables that affect performance, and the Joseph Rowntree Trust has found that parental socio-economic background has a greater influence on attainment than the school a child attends.

Certainly, school teachers cannot be blamed for the attainment gap that already exists by the time children enter primary one (evidence of which comes from longitudinal and sample surveys). Responsible use of the test-result data would take into account a raft of other important factors such as additional support needs, levels of parental engagement and the proportion of pupils for whom English is a second language.

Rather than expressing knee-jerk opposition to primary school tests, teachers' representatives would do well to consider how their reintroduction might actually help. Early intervention underpins the Scottish Government's Getting It Right for Every Child programme, but without more detailed data on school performance it is difficult to identify what works to reduce inequality, and where limited educational resources such as teaching assistants should be targeted. Tests could be used to measure levels of progress, identify bucked trends, and move away from one-size-fits-all policy.

By invoking the bad old days, the EIS seeks to conjure up memories of a time when primary school performance could dictate a pupil's destiny, writing off those who failed to make the grade.

But when the First Minister talks about tests and the need for better data it is in an entirely different context - one where the desire is to reduce inequality, not increase it.