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

Grades 6-8
Staff Pick
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What’s Special

High academic achievement, strong talent program

The Downside

Increasingly crowded with large class size

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)

About the students

Free or reduced priced lunch
Students with disabilities
English language learners

About the school

Shared campus?
This school is in its own building.
Uniforms required?
Metal detectors?
How crowded? (Full is 100%)
Citywide Average Key
This school is Better Near Worse than the citywide average


Average daily attendance
93% Citywide Average
How many students are chronically absent?
20% Citywide Average

Is this school safe?

How many teachers say order and discipline are maintained at this school?
78% Citywide Average
How many students think bullying happens most or all of the time at this school?
50% Citywide Average
How many students say they feel safe in the hallways, bathrooms and locker rooms?
83% Citywide Average
How many students say most students treat each other with respect?
43% Citywide Average

About the leadership

Years of principal experience at this school
6.0 Citywide Average
How many teachers say the principal is an effective manager?
82% Citywide Average
How many teachers say the principal has a clear vision for this school?
89% Citywide Average
How many teachers trust the principal?
83% Citywide Average

About the teachers

How many teachers have 3 or more years of experience teaching?
72% Citywide Average
Teacher attendance
96% Citywide Average
How many teachers say they would recommend this school to other families?
82% Citywide Average
How many teachers think the staff collaborate to make this school run effectively?
87% Citywide Average
Citywide Average Key
This school is Better Near Worse than the citywide average

Test scores

How many students scored 3-4 on the state math exam?
27% Citywide Average
How many students scored 3-4 on the state ELA exam?
30% Citywide Average

Arts offerings

This school has 10 dedicated spaces for Dance, Music, Theater, Visual arts, and Media arts
This school has 8 licensed arts teacher in Dance, Music, Theater and Visual arts

Engaging curriculum?

How many students say this school offers enough programs, classes and activities to keep them interested?
76% Citywide Average
How many students say they are challenged in most or all of their classes?
61% Citywide Average
How many students say the programs, classes and activities here encourage them to develop talent outside academics?
72% Citywide Average

Are students prepared for high school?

Accelerated courses offered for high school credit
Spanish, Italian, Algebra I, Living Environment
How many 8th graders earn high school credit?
26% Citywide Average
How many graduates of this school pass all their classes in 9th grade?
84% Citywide Average
What high schools do most graduates attend?
Brooklyn Technical HS, Stuyvesant HS, and Fiorello H. LaGuardia HS of Music & Art and Performing Arts
Citywide Average Key
This school is Better Near Worse than the citywide average

How does this school serve English Language Learners?

How many former English language learners score 3-4 on the State ELA exam?
14% Citywide Average

How does this school serve students with disabilities?

This school offers self-contained classes
This school offers team teaching (ICT)
Average math score for ICT students
1.9 Citywide Average
Average math score for self-contained students
2.1 Citywide Average
Average ELA score for ICT students
1.9 Citywide Average
Average ELA score for self-contained students
2.2 Citywide Average
Average math score for SETSS students
2.3 Citywide Average
Average ELA score for SETSS students
2.3 Citywide Average
How many students say that students with disabilities are included in all activities?
68% Citywide Average
How many parents of students with disabilities say this school offers enough activities and services for their children's needs?
87% Citywide Average
How many parents of students with disabilities say this school works to achive the goals of their students' IEPs?
90% Citywide Average
How many parents of students with disabilities say they are satisfied with the IEP development process at this school?
89% Citywide Average
For more information about our data sources, see About Our Data
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