Future Reflections Spring 1992, Vol. 11 No. 2

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BLIND STUDENT BUCKS STATE RULING
Test Is Unfair, Teenager Says

     Editor's Note: The following article was written by Tim Bass and is reprinted from the January 19, 1992, Greensboro News and Record, Greensboro, North Carolina. Just for the reader's information, Miss Goodman's goal of working in a foreign embassy was only recently made possible by the actions of the National Federation of the Blind (see the October, 1991, Braille Monitor), and the persistence of one blind man--Rami Rabby, former second vice president of the National Federation of the Blind. It was only in late 1990 that the discriminatory barriers keeping blind persons out of the U.S.A. diplomatic corps were finally broken down. On January 7, 1991, Rami Rabby began his six-month training as a Foreign Service Office, and later that July he flew to London, England to take up his first assignment at a U.S.A. embassy overseas. He and one other blind trainee were the first blind people to ever be accepted, trained, and placed on assignment as U.S.A. Foreign Service Officers.

     Gibsonville--A voice from Carey Goodman's electronic wristwatch speaks up: "It's 3 p.m." Goodman, who is blind, pays no heed.  She's busy talking about her carefully constructed plans for the future.  What's time to a 17-year-old, straight-A student who's about to graduate from high school a year early and head for college to study international relations?

     "I'm looking much forward to getting out in the real world," she said. "It's just another step in the course of life to get you ready for your task in life. It's a natural progression. It's like asking a baby, 'Are you ready to leave your diapers?'" She's ready. By June, Goodman will have earned 20 high school credits, enough to qualify her for graduation as a junior at Eastern Guilford High School.

     But unless she bows to the bureaucracy and takes the state's mandatory competency test--which measured academic skills at about a fifth-grade level--Goodman won't get her diploma. She says sighted students with the same standardized test scores would have been exempted years ago; the state says her scores don't count, in part, because the tests were in Braille.

     Her mother, Debby, said years of fighting the state over the competency test have been frustrating. "Governor Martin can pardon a man on death row, but my daughter can't get a waiver on the competency test," she said.

     Carey Goodman calls the competency test "the biggest pain in the neck that I've ever known."  She repeatedly has refused to take it, saying she's been penalized because she's blind. "It's a waste of my time to miss an hour of honors history or AP biology to prove to them that I have a fifth-grade education," she said.

     Indeed, her accelerated program would bear that out.  She'll have the necessary credits for graduation a year early because she took senior English and Spanish II at home this past summer in an independent study program.  This year, she's taking advanced-placement biology, honors English, honors U.S. history, French I, Spanish III, and Journalism. Her grades are all A's. She's tops in her junior class with a 4.6 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale. Her honors courses carry extra credit.

     But Goodman doesn't want to talk about grades now. She's focused on her mission: to work in a U.S. embassy in Germany or the Baltic states, shaping important decisions and encouraging people "to know what's going on around them, to wake up and get with the program. Somebody has to do something."

     Goodman has been accepted at Florida International University, a Miami school that offers a major in international relations. She hopes to get a law degree from the University of Miami and a job with the U.S. State Department.

     "It's been a long time since I have run into a student who is as focused as she is," said Barbara Allman, Goodman's school counselor. "She's so far beyond some of her classmates in her thinking.  She's just on a different plane"

     A conversation with Goodman covers a lot of ground. College. Diplomacy. The C-Span television network. Her family's frequent trips abroad. The civil war in Yugoslavia. Her favorite book, "The Great Gatsby." Her independent studies to learn Russian, German, and Hungarian. But she also talks about rock 'n' roller Rod Stewart, football, "Saturday Night Live" and learning to play the guitar left-handed. "I love 'Designing Women,'" she said. "Don't get the idea that I'm this stodgy, stuck-up thing."

     Goodman was born with a visual disorder called Peter's anomaly. "I guess Peter was the first dude who had it," she said. She can see some light and some color, but that's all. At school, Goodman lugs around a Braillewriter, a 5-pound metal box that resembles a small typewriter.  She uses it to take notes in class.

     An adult aide, Barbara Carter, is on hand daily to walk Goodman to class and the cafeteria and to keep up with the equipment, supplies, and book bags stored in a special room assigned to Goodman.  Braillist Sheila McCain translates most tests.

     Because it takes so long for publishers to convert textbooks to Braille, Goodman has gone entire school years without books. And when Braille books arrive, they can be daunting. A Braille copy of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," for example, runs seven volumes. The Bible is 18 volumes. Webster's New World Dictionary is 72 volumes. "When I was in fifth grade, they sent me a dictionary that was eight volumes," she said. "They called it the pocket dictionary."

     Goodman lives within earshot of Southeast Guilford High School but transferred from there two years ago after several disputes with officials concerning her blindness and her condition as a diabetic. Goodman's parents have asked Eastern Guilford teachers to cut no academic corners for her. Their only request was that Goodman receive assignments in Braille at the same time other students receive theirs in print.

     Her blindness is at the center of the controversy over the competency test, which could stand between Goodman and her early diploma. The N.C. Department of Public Instruction exempts students from the competency test if they score high enough on the standardized California Achievement Tests in eighth grade. The scores vary according to section, but generally students are exempt if the CAT scores are in the top 55 percent.

     Goodman's overall CAT scores were in the top 5 percent. But the state says her CAT tests were not standardized because they were in Braille and were not administered with a timed deadline. The state refuses to exempt her from the competency test.

     "We have to recognize that test has no official standing, because it was given in a non-standard manner." said William Brown, the department's director of accountability services. "We tried everything we knew to present alternatives to the child that would accommodate her problem."

     Goodman still can attend Florida International even if she doesn't get her diploma because she doesn't take the test, but she concedes she'll "probably be forced into wimping out and taking the thing." She sees the test as another unnecessary obstacle that she must clear simply because she's blind. But she can handle that. And she can handle that. And she can handle it when people speak loudly around her--assuming that because she's blind, she's also hard of hearing.

     But she can't stand it when people believe her blindness diminishes her intelligence. "It's this attitude, 'She can't see, she can't think, too,'" Goodman said. "That makes me mad, because if there's one thing I can do, it's think for myself."

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