A lot depends on the dz. Many dz's have already adopted the new Integrated Student Program Basic Safety Requirements (ISP BSR's), there are, however, some that will allow you to proceede with the "old method", at least until January of 2002. You should check with whichever dz you are going to school at and ask if they have adopted the new ISP yet.
P'rhaps I can shed a bit of light - I jump at a dz which has not yet adopted the new ISP, but have taken a course recently at a dz which is adopting it. Essentially you have to demonstrate the same skills as before to get your A license. The new little card you may have seen or heard about is basically a checklist - as you develop and demonstrate these skills, you get your card signed off by your instructors. The idea is that the learning process is a bit more formalized than before, and that there is less of a gap between "off student status" and "A -license qualified." In fact, with the ISP, there is no more gap. Is this much different in practice than older student programs? Not necessarily. For instance - I went through a static - line program at a small dz. Lots of the stuff on the ISP progression was taught to me in a very informal manner. For example, packing. I had no packing class, per se. I just repacked a student rig a half-dozen times on a windy day, and repeated the process a few times till a rigger told me to go ahead and jump my pack job. Did I get signed off for packing? Not as such, but it being a small dz, the formal process wasn't necessary. In larger student programs, the increased formalization of the ISP is a definite boon for instructors and students alike. A quick glance at your card, along with a perusal of your logbook, will fill any instructor at your dz in on what you know and what you need to learn. To use the example of packing again, at a large dz, you may take an actual packing class, and then be signed off. Or, you may spend a couple of rainy/windy afternoons packing under supervision and then get your card signed. The only difference between the old way and the new way is that now after demonstrating a degree of proficiency at a skill, you get your card signed.
There is one difference - the testing is now oral. You get an oral quiz towards the end of each level, and a final oral quiz to go with your final check-dive. Previously, all you had was a written multiple guess test you had to pass before you could send off the check for your license number. Whether the oral quizzing will be tougher or not depends on how you handle different sorts of testing, how tough your instructors are, and so on. BTW, the instructors have an array of questions to choose from, so the quizzes aren't totally random.
All in all, you won't miss much either way you wind up learning. Good luck, and lots of blues skies and light winds! -Patkat