In November 1942, the United States Armed Forces Institute approached the American Council on Education (ACE) with a request to develop tests to measure high school-level academic skills. These were referred to as “tests of general educational development” and eventually became known as the GED® tests.
The initial impetus for the GED® tests was to improve the morale of U.S. military personnel who had enrolled in the military during World War II before completing high school, and to reduce public opposition to the prospect of teenagers joining the war effort before finishing high school. The test allowed service members the opportunity to demonstrate the knowledge and experience they had acquired while in the Armed Forces. Passing the GED® test provided returning soldiers the academic credentials they needed to obtain civilian jobs or entrance into postsecondary education institutions after the war. Working in tandem with the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (more commonly known as the GI Bill of Rights), the GED® test helped facilitate a smooth transition for many of the nearly 10 million World War II veterans who had not completed high school and were now returning home after demobilization following the war. By 1951, an estimated 1.26 million GED® tests had been taken by these returning veterans.
In 1947 the GED® test was expanded to nonveteran adult civilians, and by 1959 the number of civilians who had taken the test surpassed the number of veterans who had done so. During the 1960s, with baby boomers reaching adulthood, the number of people taking the GED® test increased nearly fivefold as the GED® program became a part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty program. In the 1970s, the application of the test was further expanded when at the request of the federal government ACE lowered the minimum age requirement for taking the GED® test so that teenage high school drop outs could now take it.
In March 2011, ACE announced a joint venture with Pearson to form the GED Testing Service in order to transform the GED® test for the twenty-first century. The partnership was designed to develop a new GED® test aligned with Common Core State Standards that would assure colleges, universities, and prospective employers that adults who have passed the GED® tests are prepared to compete and succeed in a global economy. At this time, the test also became online-based.
Today, nearly 800,000 GED® tests are taken each year, and more than 20 million people have passed. The test is used by all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Canadian provinces and territories, the U.S. military, and federal correctional institutions for the purpose of awarding a high school graduation equivalency credential.
In addition to the thousands of local community leaders such as teachers, nurses, firefighters, policymakers, and business leaders who have earned GED® credentials, notable graduates also include state governors, members of Congress, college presidents, entertainers, entrepreneurs, a U.S. surgeon general, and even a presidential candidate.