The General Education Development exam (GED) was first established in 1942 to measure the major concepts generally learned through a high school education. The original tests were administered only to those in the military so that World War II
veterans could easily obtain an education since many of the educations had been disrupted. This was the beginning of the GED test that still exists today as the value of being able to document the attainment of high school level skills proved to be significant. In the early 1960s, the program was first offered to non-veterans. Since that time, the exam has proven to remain an integral part of the educational system for many people, as can be seen by the 800,000 test takers each year. Most students pursuing an alternative to a regular diploma take the GED tests, with the goal of earning a high school equivalency credential.
Since the early years, the GED has evolved. It is now viewed as a second-chance program for people who failed to graduate from a regular high school program. Research of GED test-takers shows that while the average age of GED test-takers is approximately 26, over the last quarter of a century, approximately 30 to 40 percent of the test-takers have been ages 16 through 19.
Approximately 21 million adults took the GED tests between 1972 to 1999. The tests are scored by a minimum passing score which is set nationally by the test administrator at the American Council on Education, and individual states set their own passing scores at or above the minimum requirement. In January of 1997, this minimum passing score was raised to a new standard requiring all GED graduates to exceed the performance of at least 33 percent of traditional graduating high school seniors.
Who takes the test? Anyone! As long as the student is age 16 or older, is out of school and does not hold a high school diploma – he or she can register and take the GED test.
Recent studies have analyzed different ages and groups taking the GED test. In October 1999, 85.9 percent of 18- through 24-year-olds had completed high school either by earning a traditional diploma or by alternate means such as an equivalency test. Approximately 9.2 percent of the 18- through 24-year-olds had completed high school by taking a high school equivalency test such as the GED. This represents about 1.9 million young adults.
According to a U.S. Census study which researched the incidence of GED test-takers among young adults in the four racial/ethnic groups. The study found Asians were most likely to have earned a high school diploma (87.8 percent), followed by whites (82.0 percent), blacks (72.9 percent), and then Hispanics (54.9 percent). Although Hispanic youths were the least likely of the four racial/ethnic groups to have earned a high school diploma, they were as likely as white, black, and Asian young adults (approximately 6 to 11 percent of each group) to complete high school with an alternative diploma.