I.S. 239 Mark Twain School for the Gifted & Talented

An Insideschools pick
2401 NEPTUNE AVENUE
BROOKLYN NY 11224 Map
Phone: (718) 266-0814
Website: Click here
Admissions: Citywide; selective
Principal: Karen Ditolla
Neighborhood: Coney Island
District: 21
Grade range: 6-8
Parent Coordinator: DELGERMAA GANBAATAR
Unzoned
Screened
Citywide

What's special:

High academic achievement, strong talent program

The downside:

Increasingly crowded with large class size

InsideSchools Review

Our review:

Long one of the city's most sought after middle schools, IS 239 Mark Twain offers demanding academics and a range of talent programs. The work showcased in halls and classrooms is consistently impressive, and many students clearly thrive at the school. But, even though Twain tries to nurture its students, some children may find the atmosphere too competitive and stressful.

While it has a reputation as a school for top students, Twain admits 5th-graders not on the basis of their standardized test scores but on their performance on a test or try-out in any one of 11 talent areas. These include vocal music, instrumental music — winds, instrumental music — strings, computers/math, creative writing, dance, drama, fine arts, media, physical education and science. The talent areas set the bar fairly high; many of those wanting to study an instrument, for example, come in knowing how to read music, although they may begin a new instrument at Twain.

Most students also have high tests scores, but not all do. Twain tries to support those struggling academically with an extra period of math or reading, tutoring and an after school test-prep program. Classes are heterogeneously grouped in 6th grade, then divide more in the higher grades, as some children do honors and more advanced work. The school offers the algebra, Earth science and living environment Regents exams, and all students take a proficiency test in Spanish or Italian.

Karen Ditolla, who became principal in 2011, says her goal has been to maintain the school's quality, "bring it to the next level" and modernize the building, a utilitarian structure dating back to the 1930s. Twain's library and auditorium have been renovated, and it is updating its science labs. She also has increased the use of technology in the school on a number of fronts, including an initiative to use iPads in 8th grade, modeled on a program at Staten Island Tech. All teachers have been given iPads.

The school is revamping its science program, partly in response to the Common Core learning standards, moving away from simple recall to more investigation and requiring students to write science essays. In English and math, Twain has adapted curriculums produced by textbook publishing giant Pearson to meet its needs. In English, teachers choose their own readings, and in math students do projects. Sixth-graders studying ratios design a park.

While academic classes generally are well-run and interesting, much of the energy at Twain comes from the talent areas. The classes we saw featured musical performances at a high level and teachers energetically engaging with students over robots and computers to teach them programming. Eighth-graders in the science talent take two science Regents exams but also spend time studying genetic DNA using actual samples. In the creative writing class, students prepared to write a work of historical fiction, having recently written a children's book and a young adult story.

Since losing some federal funding, Twain has increased enrollment, and classes tend to be large — 36 to 38 students. Still, the school is orderly and clean. A cluster system breaks the population into groups of about 150 students.

Ditolla readily admits there is "a high level of competitiveness, stress and anxiety" at Twain, not only among students but among many of their families as well. She said school staff try to dial that down as much as they can and that telling parents their children will be ok has become her "mantra." There have been accounts of bullying, though the Learning Environment Survey indicates it remains less of a problem at Twain than at many other schools.

A parent told us 6th-graders get about a half an hour of homework a night. While the program is demanding, she said, teachers try not to overload the students.

Twain has an active PTA. On the day of our visit, three parents were sending out invitations to a fund-raising event marking the creation of a Twain Hall of Fame featuring prominent alumni. A large number of Twain students get admitted to specialized high schools, particularly La Guardia High School, Brooklyn Tech, Stuyvesant and Staten Island Tech. Many also go on to other screened schools, such as Midwood Medical Science Institute, Leon M Goldstein High School for the Sciences  Edward R. Murrow and Bard High School Early College.

Special education: Twain has self-contained classes for students with special needs as well as two team teaching classes on each grade that have both general and special education students.

Admissions: Students from anywhere in New York City may apply by listing Mark Twain on their middle school application form and submitting a Request for Testing Form. All students try out for two of the 11 Talents. (Gail Robinson, March 2014)

InsideStats

Click tabs above to see school stats

At a glance

Shared campus? No

This school is in its own building

Number of Students 1312

Average Daily Attendance 95%

Uniforms? No

Students at this school

Asian

  
30%

Black

  
11%

Hispanic

  
6%

White

  
53%

Free Lunch

  
39%

Special ed

  
7%

English Language Learners

  
1%

INCOMING STUDENTS' PROFICIENCY: 3.63 2.80 CITYWIDE AVERAGE


1 = Far below grade level 2 = Below grade level 3 = At grade level 4 = Above grade level

Safety & vibe

DO STUDENTS LIKE THE SCHOOL?

How many students say their teachers inspire them to learn?

72% 64% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

How many students say this school offers enough programs to keep them interested?

82% 78% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

ARE KIDS NICE?

How many students complain about bullying?

66% 71% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

How many students say students at their school respect one another?

71% 57% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

How many teachers say order and discipline are maintained in the school?

95% 77% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

DO TEACHERS LIKE THE SCHOOL?

How many teachers say the principal is an effective manager?

82% 80% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

How many teachers would recommend this school to other parents?

100% 79% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

ARE CLASSES BIG?

Number of students in an average english class

33 26 CITYWIDE AVERAGE

How many students are chronically absent?

11% 24% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

Academics

Percent of students who scored 3 or 4 on the state math exam

80% 25% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

Percent of students who scored 3 or 4 on the state ela exam

83% 22% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

Percent of students who scored 3 or 4 on the state science exam

96% 53% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

HS Prep

How many 8th graders pass high school regents exams?

Percent of 8th graders who take and pass the algebra regents:

48% 21% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

Percent of 8th graders who take and pass a science regents:

41% 14% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

How do graduates do in 9th grade?

Percent who pass all their classes freshman year:

99% 85% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

Special ed & ELL

How well does this school serve students with disabilities?

Percent of self-contained students who scored 3 or 4 on the state math exam:

6% 2% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

Percent of self-contained students who scored 3 or 4 on the state ELA exam:

0% 1% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

Percent of ICT students who scored 3 or 4 on the state math exam:

31% 5% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

Percent of ICT students who scored 3 or 4 on the state ELA exam:

8% 4% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

Percent of SETSS students who scored 3 or 4 on the state math exam:

30% 7% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

Percent of SETSS students who scored 3 or 4 on the state ELA exam:

20% 6% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

How well does this school serve English language learners?

Percent of ell students who scored 3 or 4 on the state ELA exam:

11% 2% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

Percent of former ell students who scored 3 or 4 on the state ELA exam:

56% 13% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

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