A new Twin Cities report card by a nonprofit education group gives a grim picture of academic achievement for students in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Fewer than half the cities’ students are reading at grade level in third grade, meeting math standards in eighth grade and getting a college degree after they graduate high school. The numbers are even lower for students of color.

The report, released Thursday by Generation Next, an organization aiming to close the achievement gap in the Twin Cities, comes a week after a national organization released a controversial report showing that Minneapolis had the lowest graduation rate among 50 major U.S. cities.

R.T. Rybak, Generation Next’s director and a former mayor of Minneapolis, told a group of about 300 community members that the Twin Cities cannot ignore the vast achievement gaps. The report is a measure of how well adults are doing in educating children, in both district and charter schools in the cities, he said.

“That report card says you are not living up to your potential,” Rybak said.

“One of the great communities anywhere around, number one city for so many things, also happens to be number one for the largest gaps between kids of color and the rest of the population, and that’s not acceptable.”

Generation Next has identified six areas it believes are key to closing the gap: kindergarten readiness, reading by third grade, proficiency in eighth-grade math, high school graduation, social-emotional learning and postsecondary attainment.

In most of those areas, fewer than half of all Twin Cities students are meeting the organization’s benchmarks. The exception is four-year graduation rates, where 62 percent of Minneapolis and St. Paul students graduate from high school. But a big achievement gap exists in that area, too, with fewer than half of all black students graduating in four-years.

Rybak said Generation Next is investing in the districts and community organizations that have started to show improvements. The areas of kindergarten readiness and literacy have seen the largest investment and results so far, he said. The number of children receiving early learning screenings has increased 16 percent in one year across the cities. At Thursday’s event, the Bush Foundation and the Greater Twin Cities United Way announced a $4 million combined contribution to expand early childhood screening and to improve the quality of child care programs.

Generation Next, created in 2012, is an initiative of the United Way that also receives money from such organizations as 3M, Target and the Pohlad Foundation. Its goal is to bring together hundreds of education, business and community organizations to close the achievement gap in the cities.

It will work with districts in the coming year to develop a system to help schools identify struggling high school students early and get them help. Generation Next also launched a program with several community organizations that recruit and train reading tutors around the Twin Cities.