Pupils in schools across Scotland could face new tests to prove whether they are competent in the "three Rs".
There is concern over standards in basic numeracy and literacy skills
Statistics show half of all 14 year olds fall below expected standards.
First Minister Jack McConnell, a former maths teacher, said he was considering bringing in a new numeracy and literacy qualification to tackle the problem.
But the Scottish National Party said it would reduce class sizes in Scotland's schools to tackle issues with literacy and numeracy.
Mr McConnell said Scotland had "a basic problem" with instilling basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills.
The Scottish Survey of Achievement was introduced last year and replaced the 5-14 national tests.
The report showed that just under 50% of pupils had either very good or well-established attainment in numeracy and reading.
The first minister said there was a need to review qualifications developed in the 1980s and 1990s to see if they were "sharp enough" in basic numeracy and literacy.
He called for a return to more traditional "fun" aspects of O-grade maths when youngsters of all abilities were involved.
"People were trying to reach a basic standard and they could do it by having basic skills," Mr McConnell said.
"There is a need to be clear about the qualifications that are there, but there is also a need for us to be sure those qualifications cover the basic skills.
"It's important young Scots learn the more flexible problem solving skills of new courses.
"But it's also important they have a grounding in the basics of numeracy and literacy."
SNP education spokeswoman Fiona Hyslop said Labour had admitted that its education policies had failed.
She said: "Teachers and parents already know that our pupils are over-assessed as it is, and we agree with them that it's time to give our children more time to learn.
"That's why the SNP's plans for government would mean that Scotland's school pupils would have more one-to-one time with a teacher, by delivering smaller class sizes."
General secretary of teachers' union EIS, Ronnie Smith, said it was "unhelpful" for politicians to "pre-empt" the work being done to develop a Curriculum for Excellence.
He said: "Numeracy and literacy are not an optional 'bolt-on' outside the mainstream curriculum or assessment system.
"Creating even more free-standing tests will do nothing to improve standards in our schools and contradicts current policy, which is to reduce the assessment burden on our pupils."