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Rather than earning grades and credits, students show learning by demonstrating their mastery of competencies. This means a student’s path to mastery will be personal, unique, varied and challenging.

As defined by the Aurora Institute, a Competency-based education is a system in which:

  • Students are empowered daily to make important decisions about their learning experiences, how they will create and apply knowledge, and how they will demonstrate their learning.
  • Assessment is a meaningful, positive, and empowering learning experience for students that yields timely, relevant, and actionable evidence.
  • Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
  • Students progress based on evidence of mastery, not seat time.
  • Students learn actively using different pathways and varied pacing.
  • Strategies to ensure equity for all students are embedded in the culture, structure, and pedagogy of schools and education systems.
  • Rigorous, common expectations for learning (knowledge, skills, and dispositions) are explicit, transparent, measurable, and transferable.

Gibson Ek is authorized by the Washington State Board of Education (SBE) to graduate students based on mastery of competencies rather than credits, and the competencies are aligned with Common Core State Standards and admissions expectations of selective baccalaureate colleges in Washington state and nationally. The competencies are clustered within five interdisciplinary Learning Goals representing the skills, core knowledge, and attributes of effective learners prepared for college and career.


Competency-based learning is personalized, allowing students to receive just the right amount of challenge and support where needed. Competency-based learning also rewards and celebrates growth over time. Therefore, Gibson Ek students show growth throughout their 4 years from being an emerging and discovering learner in their 101 and 201 years to being an engaged and empowered learner in their 301 and 401 years. Students share evidence of learning to demonstrate competency attainment along the following timeline:

101 students

meet 10 of the 20 competencies at a Foundational or Advanced level
201 students meet the remaining 10 competencies for a total of 20 competencies
301 students meet 8 competencies at the Foundational or Advanced Level, but with greater depth, rigor and community
401 students meet a different 8 competencies, also with greater depth, rigor and community connection
Students build upon their engaged skills and knowledge, and they use their learning to authentically and positively impact the community
Students build upon their skill and knowledge explorations by developing ownership in their learning to pursue greater challenges and deeper understandings
Students build upon their emerging skills and knowledge by developing the complexity of their understandings, the quality of their skills, and the investment in their visions
Students share their learning when they begin their journey at Gibson Ek, try something for the first time, or repeat a skill to gain more practice

Foundational and Advanced Level Work

Students can demonstrate mastery of competencies at a foundational or advanced level. A student demonstrates advanced application of competencies through work that has an impact outside of school and exhibits at least two of the following:

  • leadership that inspires others toward social responsibility
  • consistent and ongoing mentorship from a professional in a relevant field
  • deep and complex knowledge of a subject or skill set
  • professional-level performance; significant contribution to a community outside of school
  • critical application of Design Thinking, including multiple iterations and revisions based on a range of feedback  

Personal Qualities: Graduates possess the habits of mind to achieve their goals for the future. They are curious and express a joy for learning. They feel a sense of responsibility to make a contribution in their local communities and in the wider world.  

Communication: Graduates are confident, respectful communicators. They initiate conversations and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions with peers and adults to build understanding of concepts and ideas and complete authentic tasks and projects.

Empirical Reasoning: Graduates observe phenomena, generate their own questions, design and conduct investigation, and construct and defend arguments as contributing members of society.

Quantitative Reasoning: Graduates make sense of quantitative phenomena by constructing viable arguments, justifying their thinking, and generalizing understandings to solve real-world problems.

Social Reasoning: Graduates understand diverse perspectives and engage with critical issues of the past and present to examine their impact on society. They use their understanding of local, state, and world policies to become active participants in local, national, and global communities.

Integrating competencies into projects

Most authentic projects are interdisciplinary, so projects will include elements of various competencies and targets. Here are just a few examples of how to integrate competencies.

Personal Qualities
  • Write a reflection of a global issue, apply learning to own life and share.
  • Research a personally relevant health issue, and connect this research project to a Health and Wellness plan.
  • Research a community challenge or need early in the year. Spend the remainder of the year volunteering with a community organization that addresses that challenge or need.
  • Provide a testimonial from a mentor, peer or other community member attesting to skill, responsibility, respect or integrity.
  • Adapt a final product for a new user — older, younger, physically disabled, learning impaired, limited language, limited finances, etc. Make it authentic by working with and soliciting feedback from an actual user.
  • Use art (visual, musical, performance) to communicate an important social issue, challenge or problem
  • Study a scientific concept of interest, and communicate your understanding through fiction: a play, poem, science fiction, etc.
  • Organize an exhibit of GEHS student art that is thematically connected by a social issue. Work with the City of Issaquah to create a pop-up art exhibit in one of the local parks.
 Empirical Reasoning
  • Study sound waves and apply the learning to the recording studio, experimenting with and documenting the effects of variables on the quality of the recording.
  • Film skateboarding maneuvers and use software to analyze the velocity of these maneuvers, experimenting with variables.
  • Record the speed of a cyclist on a velodrome (maybe the one at Marymoor Park). Use math to determine the cyclist’s speed on various lines of the velodrome. Use this data to design a model of a velodrome.
  • Research nudge economics and then design and conduct a nudge experiment to change student productivity.
 Quantitative Reasoning
  • Create a scale drawing of furniture, staircase, etc. to build at a later date, and label these plans with appropriate information.
  • Observe patterns (customers in a store, etc.) to make predictions for a business.
  • Gather analytics from a social media account and use it to create a social media marketing plan for a small business.
  • After researching a social issue, analyze data sets related to that issue and communicate your findings in an infographic.
Social Reasoning
  • Research gender norms and attitudes in the 1950s and compare it to norms and attitudes now. Create a photo essay to capture your research, and display it in the Commons.
  • Use King County’s Equity Maps and, using additional research, analyze the relationship among economics, resources, physical geography. Apply what you learn to mapping downtown Issaquah.
  • Research how Gibson Ek can filter more of its stormwater runoff and the impact this would have on the microenvironment around GEHS as well as the larger watershed. Design a system to make this happen, create a budget, and write a grant to help implement your design.
  • Research the current and potential impact of electric cars on the environment. Work with local government and the school district to get an electric car charging station at Gibson Ek. 

[From the Student Handbook]